Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Free Fall

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

Chapter 329:  Free Fall

Stay at home mom. Tony's nodding. He's looking supportive. Inside he's screaming in terror.

Yeah, she wasn't kidding, that's a scary fucking change.

Sure, the rational bit of his mind that is not completely flipping out at the idea, agrees that this is a fine idea. That it would solve the time issue. It would definitely allow him to run the team (but what good is the team if none of his people are on it? God, he doesn't even want to think about how much that hurts.) and still have a family life when he's not running it.

And he really appreciates her hitting him with this now, before she's pregnant, so that they're talking about it as opposed to just this is the way it's going to be. (Though the screaming part of his brain is also fairly sure that this is how it's going to be, and if this were just a discussion, like if she had said this to him before they got engaged, he'd be a whole hell of a lot less flipped out.)

She's looking at him expectantly, so he smiles, or at least lifts the corners of his lips and bares his teeth, (She flinches at that, so obviously it wasn't the comforting gesture he was aiming for.) and says, "I… just… um… thinking… Yeah. Thinking. Got to do some thinking," grabs his keys, and heads out.

Fourteen minutes. Gibbs didn't think even Ziva could make it from their place to his that fast. But that's how long passed between Ziva's call and Tony's footsteps on his stairs.

"There's nothing I can afford on my salary in a decent school district anywhere near here."

Gibbs looks up at him, puts his saw down, and points to the stools next to his work bench, two bourbons are already poured and waiting. He sits down, and so does Tony.

"Tony…" Yeah, you won't get rich on a Team Leader salary, but you can afford a decent place to live.

"They're going to force me to retire in eight years! Nine or ten if I can get McGee to pull his age erasing trick for me. I can stay on for desk duty, was planning to, because we're going to need the money. But with her on team leader salary and me on desk duty we'd be comfortable, still scrambling to figure out how to pay for college, and not looking to retire rich or anything, but I wouldn't be worried about how to pay the rent."

That makes a whole lot more sense. Gibbs doesn't know what kind of money, if any, Tony and Ziva have in the bank. His general sense was that Tony liked to live pretty close to the edge of his paycheck, if not a bit over. He's also sure Ziva's a saver. And he had kind of assumed that Eli David had some money, and that Ziva as his only heir probably got it, but… But he doesn't know that, and he knows assuming is a one way trip to wrong.

So if Tony's looking at a maximum of ten years to get as much as he can… Because post-retirement desk duty money is the kind of cash that's supposed to pay for that nice vacation, or the deck on the house, or round out the college funds. It's the money that lets you do fun stuff on your off time while your pension does the heavy lifting. It's not the kind of money you're supposed to live one.

Gibbs stands up, grabs a legal pad and a pencil, and starts writing things down. Right now, he figures that a good, solid, set plan is what Tony needs. "One problem at a time. Place to live in a good school district. Tim, Jimmy, and I can help with that."

"Gibbs, I can't take money from you guys."

"Not what I was thinking, Tony." And it wasn't, he knew there was no way Tony'd take that kind of help. "There has to be a house or condo in bad shape around here somewhere. Something foreclosed on and damaged. And I'm sure Tim can make his computer find it. And then we fix it up. This place was a wreck when we got it, and Shannon and I got it into shape. We can do the same thing for you."

"I know nothing about fixing a house. And it's not like I've got tons of downtime to work on one."

"Neither did Shannon. I doubt Palmer's any handier. And unless it's a wiring job, Tim probably doesn't know how to do it, either. But Tim knows electrical. I'm good with just about everything else. And what we don't know, we can learn. And it's not like I won't be swimming in free time come January. How low does your housing payment need to be to keep you putting enough away?"

Tony thinks for a moment. "God. Eight hundred."

Gibbs just stares at Tony, that seems really reasonable to him. Okay, sure, that's not a mansion, but any fairly decent house should be in that neighborhood.

And Tony stares at Gibbs, suddenly very aware of the fact that Gibbs hasn't been in the real estate market in more than thirty years.

"Gibbs, McGee's house went for over four hundred thousand and is worth more than six now. The only reason Jimmy and Breena could afford theirs was they got enough money as wedding presents to swing the down-payment. Your place is probably worth over five hundred thousand now. When the market went hot at the end of '14 prices jolted way back up again. If it's beat up enough for us to afford it, it'll be in pretty rough shape."

Gibbs shrugs a little. "Labor's usually the expensive part. You and Tim find something in the right place, I'll make sure it's got a solid skeleton, and instead of fighting for bootcamp, we'll make sure you can get moved in before the baby shows up."

"God." Tony slugs back some of the bourbon. "'Before the baby shows up.' She's not pregnant, yet. We're not even trying, yet."

"I know. But she's gonna be, or you two are going to adopt. I think at this point it's pretty fair to say it's going to happen."

"I hate this."

Gibbs gives him the keep talking look, and Tony is deeply relieved to see no condemnation in his eyes.

"We do this, it's all on me. I fuck it up, she's screwed. Something happens to me, she's screwed."

"She'll be dependent on you."

Tony nods, looking terrified. "Yeah. Fuck! She's got no out if we do this."

Gibbs nudges Tony's jam jar of bourbon, and Tony takes another drink, then he coolly says, "You think if you fuck up badly enough that she wants out, we aren't going to make sure she's got a soft place to land? You think if you get hurt or killed, we're not going to take care of her?"

"No… but… She'll be completely dependent on me! She's… volunteering to be dependent on me."

"She trusts you."

"God knows why."

"You're trustworthy. You have saved her life multiple times. You're not the guy you were five years ago, let alone ten years ago."

Tony looks about to take another drink, but he just stares at the liquor in front of him. "My mom was dependent on my dad like that."

"And he screwed it up, didn't he?"


"You're not him. Look, I know you, and I know your dad, and you are a vastly better man than he ever was or will be."


"And it is normal to be scared by this. It is sane to be scared of this. Kids are scary. Having your whole life change is scary. A new team is scary. Having the future you were expecting ripped away from you is scary."

"I'd just gotten to… I don't know. Still scared but, ready, I guess. You know that feeling where you're looking over the edge and about to shit yourself, but you're still going to jump anyway because you know it's the right thing to do?"

"Yeah, I know that feeling."

"Now I feel like I just looked over my shoulder and my parachute's not packed right."

Gibbs nods. "Part of being a parent. You feel that way a lot."

"I hate feeling this way."

"Yeah. I do, too. Feel it a lot. Feel it when we're in the field and suddenly everything's fubar. Felt it when I was a Marine, especially every time I got transferred to a new unit. Felt it all the time with my Kelly. Felt it when my mom was sick. It's always there, Tony. The only time it goes away is when you stay so stuck in your routine that nothing changes. That… holding pattern we were in for eight years between Ziva joining us and Jimmy getting married where we all stayed nice and snug in our little cocoons of safe, unchanging habit."

"I take it seeing Rachel's been helping," Tony says dryly, but he catches the slight tightening of Gibbs' jaw. "Is it not helping?"

"Helped just fine. Just, over now."

"Really?" And then why Gibbs has been a bear makes perfect sense. "Oh. So, no romancing Doctor Kate's Sister?"

Gibbs glares at him.

Tony holds up his hands. "I know. She's married. And your therapist. It's apparently really common, though. Called transference."

Now Gibbs is flashing his you know this how look.

"Our first two sessions with our counselor were one on one. I went first. I told her that besides the occasional psych eval, I'd never done this before. So she gave me a counseling primer and that was part of it." Tony shrugs at that. "You going to find someone else?"

"Not right now. Maybe if I get stuck again. I'm good at stuck." He brings it back around to what they had been talking about. "Spent a long time stuck. So did you. It's not scary, but nothing really good happens."

"My dad said that when we got married. Something like it. That she was going to want things that would scare the shit out of me, but if I trusted her, and went with it, I'd find joy, instead of just happy."

Gibbs smiles at that. "Even your dad's learned a thing or two over the years."

Tony takes another drink, and Gibbs follows, enjoying the sweet burn of the bourbon.

"You remember that case… We worked it with Borin… Would have been just about when Tim and Abby got together. Ziva was pissed because we were playing that game without her..."

Gibbs nods, he remembers that.

"Borin asked me why I was still with your team."


"And I said I couldn't find better people. My people are leaving. If she goes, too… it'll just be a job."

"You remember being down here, Christmas-time six-seven years ago, and me telling you to learn from my example, not follow it?"


"It's okay to have a job, Tony. NCIS doesn't have to be every single moment of our lives. In fact, it shouldn't be. I don't want any of you to get to my age and be afraid of retirement. I want you to have lives and loves and hobbies and passions, and stuff beyond this. Go, build your family and life with Ziva. And you run the team, and you do the work, but when it's done, you go home. You spend time with the people who make you happy. You don't keep hanging around that office, picking at dead cases, running every detail through your head over and over, looking for the splinter of evidence you missed, like I did.

"Maybe it won't be the 'best' team anymore. Maybe you won't solve them as fast. But it doesn't have to be. You don't have to ruin your life and your family trying to quiet my ghosts. It'll be your team, Tony. You'll run it however you see fit. No one looking over your shoulder. No one comparing you to anyone else. It's an almost complete fresh start. No more rules, no more slaps, no more… anything you don't want. And just because I couldn't stand the quiet moments alone in my own head, just because I had to work until I dropped, and I dragged all of you along for the ride, doesn't mean you have to do that."

Tony sits there quietly, absorbing that. Thinking. And though he heard it when Gibbs had said to learn from his example before, it didn't much soak in. So much of his own life was upside down and unsatisfactory, and Gibbs looked like he had it together. So he heard, but, it didn't mean anything. Just like when McGee spouts computer-talk, sure he hears it, but it's gibberish.

Not being like Gibbs was gibberish.

But now, it's soaking in.

Now, it means something.

He thought the shift was going from being second-in-command to team-leader. And that was part of it, that was the start. But he's getting it now. Getting that along with McGee's 'you're replacing Gibbs.'

It's his team. But it's not just his team. That's the real shift. It's not second-in-command to team-leader, it's NCIS-is-life to Tony DiNozzo-is-life. He is not the job. And if he wants any decent shot of joy, he cannot be the job.

All of this together, happening at once, it's for a reason.

This is his life. And it's time to start living it for him, and for Ziva, and-he feels the edge he's looking over, takes a deep breath, and jumps-for the child, children they're going to have.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Thinking

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

Chapter 328: Thinking

For the last twelve days, Ziva has been thinking. A lot.

Not so much on the let's have kids part of things. She's settled on that. And she understands that Tony is afraid, and that he's not really a kids sort of guy. He doesn't just naturally click with kiddos.

Not without some effort.

And she certainly gets that this is complicated for him on a whole bunch of levels beyond mundane fear of kids. She understands that, too.

They've talked about it together, talked about it apart, and are going to keep talking, because otherwise this is going to bite both of them in the ass.

But she's also sure that like a relationship (which he was nervous about), like a marriage (which scared him even more), that they can do this, together. She's sure that Tony will be a good dad, and that if he finds himself being a good dad, he'll get confident in his ability to be a good dad, and that a lot of the fear will vanish.

He's not scared of being married anymore, let alone of having her live with him, or dating. They did it; he found out that he could do it, that he could be good at it, and he got confident in it.

It's just that babies are the current unknown. And if there was ever a man who feared wandering into the unknown, it's Tony.

Of course, there's unknown, and unknown. Some unknowns, like going undercover, bursting into a house without full intel, or whether or not the guy with the gun really means it, he's got a lot of experience with. He's got scripts ready to go, processes in place, and lots of skills to depend on to deal with those unknowns.

A warehouse with six perps in it, no clear vantage points, and a ticking clock at his back is vastly less scary to him than a crying baby, because he knows what to do with the building and the perps, while the baby is something of a loud, tiny, inscrutable mystery.

But, like how to deal with the building and the perps (or having her in his space all the time), he'll learn babies, and as that happens, he'll start to get cocky and confident and… And it'll be good. Might take a while, but he'll get there. (And honestly, given how quickly he took a shine to Vance's kids, she's thinking awhile will translate into, at most, three weeks.)

However, he did have a very good point about how to get there. How to do the job and raise those kids. Namely, they both work at least sixty hours a week.

So, how are they going to do the actual parenting part of being parents?

Abby's scaled back her hours. She is delegating more and more of the work. McGee's headed to a new department where he may work the same number of hours, but he can do at least some of them from home, and they should be set regularly, same number each day. And Tony was right, if the autopsy is done by five, Jimmy heads off. You need him, he's got his cell on, and will come back in, but he doesn't stick around a minute longer than necessary.

And if they are going to be there for this child they're envisioning, something has to change. They cannot both be on call, all day, every day.

She thinks she knows what the change is. She's been feeling it for… honestly, since it was clear that this was serious, that she and Tony were building a life together, one that would last for the rest of their days, but feeling it doesn't mean it's a good idea.

But, good idea or no, when she envisions herself with this child, who as the days go by is becoming more and more concrete in her mind, she envisions herself with him. (And yes, he's a boy. A sturdy little boy, with her curly hair and brown eyes, but Tony's easy grin.)

She doesn't see daycare or a nanny.

And if she were to do the whole stay-at-home-mom, take-care-of-the-kids-and-house-and-everything-else route, that would mean that when Tony's home, he'd be free to be with them. He'd still have the insane hours, because that's the job. You can't lead the team on eight hours a day. But pick up dry cleaning, get groceries, fill up the cars, make dinner, all those little, piddly errands that eat up hours of your week, she'd be doing, so that when he's home, he'd be home.

But that means change. Big, big change. Team Gibbs would be gone. Thirty-five percent of their income would be gone. They'd have to move. Their current place is big enough for a baby, but the rent is too high for them on just Tony's salary. They'd have to scale back in a lot of ways. Between lost income and added expenses it'd be a huge hit to their finances.

There is one other thing Ziva knows about this, 'this' is not the sort of decision you whip out on a man after you are pregnant. If you tell him, 'I'm going back to work after the baby,' and then change your mind about it, dropping a massive change into his lap without him having any input into the situation, he's liable to resent the hell out of it.

So, thinking, lots and lots of thinking.

"Down here," Gibbs calls out when he hears footsteps on his floor. He's completed ripping the boards and is now in the process of getting them cut for assembly.

He's surprised to see Ziva on his steps. Of all the kids, she's the one least likely to just drop by to chat.

She looks a bit surprised to be on his steps, too. She'd been a bit tentative about going to see him, whatever was causing his black mood seemed to peak on Monday and has been getting better since, but he's not exactly perky right now.

But she needs advice, advice from her dad. So, perky or not, she's on the basement steps, staring at Gibbs.

"Hey, Ziver."

She smiles at him. "Gibbs." And proceeds to say nothing else, though she does head down to him, looking over his work. "Does anything need to be sanded?"

He shakes his head. "Not today." He touches the hand saw next to him. "Cutting today."

"Okay." She looks very distracted. Her plan, work with him, and then let the words just sort of flow out while she's focused on something else, has just hit a major snag.

"You need to sand something?"

Ziva shrugs. "It might have helped."


She takes a deep breath, ready to plunge into it cold. "Do you remember the Passover story?"

Gibbs nods; he knows that story, but he's got no idea at all where she's going to take this.

"The Angel of Death passed over those who marked their homes. That's who my father trained me to be, The Angel of Death. He told me that there were people God made, special people, who would be His wrath, who would protect or avenge others by wielding righteous death. That when everything else failed, there would be people like me, Angels of Death, who would finally settle the score. I was an assassin Gibbs, not an agent, not an investigator, but an assassin."

He lays his tools down and turns to face her, focusing entirely on her words. He's still got no idea where she's going with this, but he can feel it's deeply important to her.

"I broke people. That was what I did. I know who I killed, know what they did, and I don't regret it. I met Jenny coming off a job to take out one of the men who ran Buchenwald. I broke him. Like he broke hundreds of thousands of others, and I never lost a moment's sleep over it." And that's true. The only thing she felt was the satisfaction of a job very well done, and the righteous joy of long overdue justice served. That is, until recently, until she started thinking more about the idea of a life with a child. "But I broke his family, too. And I broke his wife. And his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren, and none of them had ever done me or mine any harm.

"But I did them irreparable harm."

Gibbs is following along, but this is nothing he'd expected out of her. There's something he's… sensed… maybe. Just the ghost of a feeling, since Mike died, that there was something like this lurking in the back of Ziva's mind. A sort of regretful weariness. He's surprised it's coming out now, but everything is changing now, so maybe it's a good time for it. And he's starting to get a feel for where this is going to go.

"More than ten years ago, I came here, and I stopped breaking people, for the most part, and started to clean up the pieces that are left over after a break. Justice and closure, and maybe that helps. I like to think it does."

He nods. It helps. It helps as much as anything can help.

"But we don't create here, Gibbs." He hears that and knows that whatever is coming next, she's made her decision, and right now, she's looking for reassurance and support. "On our best days, our very best days, we pick up the pieces and keep the mess from getting any bigger than it already is. We give other people the tools to try and patch the pieces back together." She looks at the already cut pieces of wood in front of her, and picks one up, no idea what it'll be. (Once it hits the lathe, it'll be a peg.)

"What if that isn't enough? What if I want to create? What if, instead of breaking people, or cleaning up the mess left by broken people, what if I want to build people? What if I want to make a home, and a family, and devote all of myself to it? What if I want to spend my time cherishing my husband and children?" She puts the piece down and turns to look him in the eyes. "My whole life has been about death, murder, pain, vengeance, and justice. And maybe, maybe it's time to focus on life."

Gibbs pulls her into a hug so fast she gasps, and then gently kisses her forehead. He holds her close for a long time and finally says, "Maybe?"

She smiles a little at that, looking relieved. It hits him then that all the girls work. None of them are or (in Penny's case) were, stay at home moms. And for as much as Ziva has a 'couldn't care less about what other people think' armor in place, she does care, very much, about what this family she's collected over the years thinks. He wonders if she's here, with him right now, because he's the one most likely to respect this decision.

"I haven't spoken to Tony about this. We've been talking about children, you know that." And he does, so he nods. "But I have not said anything about…"

"Being a full time mom?"

"Yes. Beyond anything else, there are practical considerations. With both of us working, we can live here comfortably, with just his income, that won't be true."

Gibbs nods. The only reason he can afford to live here is the fact that he bought his house back in '86 and owns it outright now.

"You speak nine languages. You could translate part time or teach or tutor one on one. Vance might be willing to hire you on a per-piece basis for translations."

She nods at that.

"And the CIA and the FBI both have a huge intel backlog. They're always looking for people to listen to tapes and translate them, too."

"I know, Gibbs. It's not a lack of potential other jobs that's the issue. In the long run, say when this child we're thinking of is in school, that will be an attractive option. But when he's a baby, every hour I am doing that is an hour someone else is raising our child. And I know Tim and Abby have a nanny, and Kelly is thriving. Molly is in daycare, and she is fine. Anna, when she goes to daycare will be fine, too. But… when I imagine it. When I think about the kind of mother I want to be, I don't see myself handing my baby over to someone else."

"You think Tony won't like that?"

She shrugs. That's not precisely that. "I think Tony will be exceptionally uncomfortable with the changes necessary to make that possible. He's already at the edge of his comfort zone with the idea of a baby, and… And a completely new team. A new home. Fewer comforts. Less money. A less 'nice' home…" Gibbs is nodding along. Tony does like his luxuries. A kid (or two) does cut into that, major loss of income would make it even worse.

But he also thinks of the child Tony was. He thinks about the fact that Tony doesn't talk much about being a kid, but the bits he does talk about, the moments he cherishes, are time spent with his Mom. He knows he personally would have given anything for more time with his mom, healthy. And he's sure Tony would have, too. So Gibbs says, "I think a man who was raised by nannies and boarding schools might just surprise you on how far he'd be willing to go to have his child's mother home with that child every day. And I know for a fact that we're both a whole lot more comfortable with you nowhere near anything even remotely dangerous. If the biggest risk you've got facing you in the next ten years is going stir-crazy from too much Sesame Street, we'd both approve." Gibbs squeezes her a little tighter. "When are you going to talk to him about it?"

"Tonight? Tomorrow? Depends on when we've got a quiet night in without a case to focus on."

Gibbs nods at that. "Let me know when you do."

"I do not think I'll need to. He'll probably be in your basement about twenty minutes later."

Gibbs smiles and kisses her again. "Yeah, he probably will be. I'll help get him straight."

"Thank you."

A/N: So, according to my Word Doc, the first version of this was written almost a year ago. (Honestly, I can't remember details that well. I do know I was in Costco, snorking down a diet Pepsi, typing away.) Yes, some of these scenes have been around for that long, some are even older, some I write the day before they go live.

I also know it was before Cote De Pablo-gate, and the firestorm of she's not coming back!

No, as I was sitting there, working through the conversation with Gibbs, I was mostly thinking of the scene in Swan Song or Pyramid, where Tony and Ziva are talking about there always being another monster. And Tony's tired, he's sad, but he's ready to go out and fight more monsters. But Ziva's not. In that moment, she's done. Now, obviously, they got her going again, but when I got thinking about which of the girls would eventually be the stay at home mom, that scene stuck with me.

Ziva was tired. She wanted a new path. She just didn't know what it might be.

Likewise, there was the bit in A Man Walks Into A Bar about wanting something permanent, something that could not be taken away from her.

And thus, the Angel of Death, and the desire to focus on life.

And, as much as I thought Past, Present, Future was... rushed? (Is that a nice way to put it? Riddled with gaping plot holes large enough to swallow Godzilla? I guess that's less nice.) I was fairly pleased to see that same, 'I've broken people, and it's time to stop mindset.'

Monday, May 26, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Why Does It Have To Be Babies?

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

Chapter 327: Why Does It Have To Be Babies?


Why does it always have to be babies?

Five years ago, Tony never expected to have to deal with being hip deep in babies. Let alone babies of his co-workers. Because hip deep in babies meant that his co-workers would have had to have developed lives outside of work, and he just wasn't expecting that, at all.

But they have.

Resulting in three tiny Palmers and one tiny McGee in the last two years.

Resulting in his wife (speaking of things he didn't expect five years ago!) getting all yay! babies on him.

On the upside, he's used to them now. He can hold Molly or Kelly and not want to run away. (He's still nervous with Anna. Little floppy people who look like they'll break if you breathe on them wrong make him really nervous.) But he's not comfortable with it. Fortunately, everyone clamoring to hold the new baby, means he only had Anna for about ten seconds before handing her off to Penny. (Who, just like everyone else, took one look at her, snuggled in close, closed her eyes, hummed a little, and fell, instantly and irrevocably, in love.)

And, God, he feels like a total asshole for this, but he did not and has not fallen instantly, madly in love with any of the little gremlins. (They are not, as per Gibbs' prediction, the lights of his life.) He's got three nieces and sure, he doesn't want anything bad to happen to them, and yes, when they lost Jon, he cried just as long and hard as the rest of them, and he will throw his physical body in front of any of the girls to protect them, but all of that's about his love for their parents.

That instant, utter, chemical adoration that the rest of them seem to have as soon as they hear that one of the girls is pregnant, just doesn't happen to him.

Yes, he's warming up to Molly significantly. There are things he likes about her. (He's got the sense she's going to be a lot of fun when she grows up. Goofy like Jimmy, but not willing to take any crap, like Breena. He's looking forward to that.) But Kelly and Anna don't exactly have personalities, yet, so… He kind of sees them like exceptionally precious pets. He'll go to his grave to protect them, because that's what a good guy does, but he's not feeling any sort of instant connection to them.

And that scares the shit out of him.

Everyone says it's different when it's your kid.

Great, wonderful. Well, these are his nieces, as close to his kids as it's possible to be without knocking Ziva up, and… he's not feeling it.

He's cooking with Ziva that night. Part of being a good friend is taking care of your buddies when they need taking care of. When Jimmy and Breena get home, their fridge and freezer will be stocked with food that just needs to be heated up.

He hasn't been willing to say it out loud to her. Because it does scare him. And because he's afraid it will disappoint her.

But, he has talked to their counselor about it, and he does know that he really should talk to Ziva about it, honesty and all…

So, he's cutting up onions as Ziva's browning up sliced beef (Tacos. Breena'll eat hers in the tortillas they'll provide; Jimmy eats his as a salad topping.) he says, kind of quietly, "What if I never feel it?"


"You picked up Anna, snuggled her close, sniffed her head, and fell in love. You did it with Molly and Kelly, too. Complete and utter love. I could see it on your face. I picked up Anna and tried to figure out the fastest way to give her to someone else. They say it's different with your own kids, but… what if it's not? What if this is it? That the best I get is fond?"

She thinks about that for a long time. He's not sure what's going on in her head. Not sure if that's her looking for a rebuttal, disappointment, or what. But, eventually she says to him, "My father loved me." She looks away from the beef to him. "And your father loved you. But it didn't help much, did it?"

Tony shakes his head. "No. I guess not."

"If you can be kind, respectful, fond… If you can be there with me through this, wake up in the middle of the night for feedings, change diapers, bandage skinned knees, show up for dance recitals, remember birthdays… If you can protect this child, serve him, devote your life to making sure she grows up happy and well-rounded… If you can do the job, if you can be a father, then I don't think it matters if you never get past fond."

"Really?" That's an angle he's never even imagined on this. Their counselor was more interested in talking about why he might not love his child than how to deal with it.

"Really." She nods. "How does a child know love? By your actions. Be here for us. Be a good father. Be a good husband. And that's all that will matter on this."

He doesn't look convinced by that, at all. "It should be more than that."

"Maybe." She shrugs. "But none of us got that, and it's what we wanted more than anything else. If you talk to Abby about her father, or Breena about Ed, they'll both tell you pretty much the same thing: their fathers took the time to be with them. They listened, and accepted, and invested time in them. Can you do that?"

Yes. "I will do it."

"Then we'll be fine."

"I'm so scared of fucking this up."

She brushes his face with her fingers, and then kisses his lips. "I know. And you're not going to."

He smiles limply at that. He's fairly certain that, given the shot, he could fuck this up to levels of fuckage that Ziva has never imagined.

She smiles brightly at him, trying to fill his uncertainty with her certainty, and then they both smell the meat starting to scorch, so she refocuses on the beef, and he goes back to cutting up onions, moving onto peppers.

As he's cutting up the yellow bell pepper level one of not fucking this up hits him. "Ziva… How do I do this and run the team? Be there. That's your number one suggestion. If I'm running the team… McGee had to leave. Draga doesn't have Kevin most of the time. Jimmy's doesn't hang around to just help out anymore. At the end of the day, if the autopsy is done, he's out of the office. I just said I'd do it, and I will, but…"

There's a look in her eyes, and he doesn't know what that means, at all, but it simultaneously terrifying and breathtaking.


"We'll figure it out. I have an idea, but I need to think about it more."

"A good idea?"

"Yes, I think so. But… Like the rest of this, scary. Let me think some more."



Ziva's not saying whatever it is that's got her brain ticking, but he can see it's whirling away.

He's tempted to chat with Gibbs, but…

Honestly, Gibbs has just been pretty weird lately. He was fine on Monday, and then something happened on Tuesday (which should have been an over-the-moon good day for him) and he's been in a funk ever since.

If it wasn't for the fact that Tony knows that Gibbs isn't dating anyone, he'd think Gibbs had just been dumped. He's not exactly doing that passing out head-slaps to anyone who gets too near thing, but he's a whole lot more bear-with-a-thorn-in-his-paw than usual. (Even Draga noticed. He crept over to Tony yesterday and said, "What the hell is wrong with him?" And Tony had to say, "I don't know. But if you want to live a long and happy lives with all of your limbs attached to your body, don't poke the bear." Draga nodded, retreated, and did his best to be located in a different zip code from Gibbs at all times while still working the case.)

He asked McGee about it, and he just shook his head. "It'll pass."

Tony rolled his eyes. He didn't ask if it would pass. He knew it'll pass. He asked what was up. "That's not useful."

"I know." Leave it alone is really clear on McGee's face. "But it will pass."

"Great." He could feel the frustration of that answer. "I need to keep an extra eye on him?"

"No! He'll be fine. Just having…" He could see McGee censor himself. "It'll pass."

He's a bit annoyed that Gibbs and McGee have this thing now that he's not part of, but… Well, if it is something female oriented, because this really, really does feel like dumped Gibbs, he did send Tim in to handle it last time, and if that's the case, maybe it just stuck…

Whatever it is, right now Gibbs is off the people to talk to list. Hopefully 'it'll pass' means that Gibbs'll be Gibbs again soon enough for him to have a chat with him about this before he gets Ziva pregnant, but…

Whatever. It's not happening today. It won't happen tomorrow. And the day after is looking remarkably unlikely, too.

He'd kind of like to talk to Jimmy. But the last thing he's going to do is go barging in on them right now. Mr. and Mrs. Autopsy Gremlin are more than busy enough right now.

But, on Tuesday, when Anna is a week old, he heads down to Autopsy to talk to Ducky about the case he's wrapping up, and was very surprised to see Jimmy napping on one of the tables, no one else around.


"I'm up," he says, lurching into a sitting position, rubbing his eyes. He's in jeans and a Christmas sweater, sneakers on the floor next to him, so he's not here in a professional capacity.

"Yeah, you look it. Shouldn't you be home, for like, another week?"

Jimmy nods. He's not back until the Wednesday after tomorrow. "Molly wanted some Ducky time. I called in. No dead bodies today. So they're out… Hell, I don't know what they're doing. I'm grabbing a nap."

"I should let you get back to it."

Jimmy squints toward the clock, feels around, puts his glasses on, and looks again. "Nah. They'll probably be back in ten minutes. I'll feel even more tired if I go back to sleep."


"So, what do you need?"

"Nothing you're helping me with." Their current case began after Jimmy left for Anna. He hadn't been there for any of it. They spend a moment, quiet, comfortable, and then Tony thinks of something Jimmy could help him with.

"You weren't really 'Yay! kids' before you had them, right?"

Jimmy shrugs at that. "I knew I wanted some eventually, but it wasn't any sort of burning need. Tim's more the 'Yay! kids' guy."

"I know that. Just… Okay… Look. I don't love kids."

"Tony, everyone on earth knows that. People who have never met you know that."

"Yeah, thanks. I wasn't saying it was a secret. But… Everyone says it's different when it's your kid. But… I mean… Is it? Really?"

Jimmy thinks about that. He likes kids okay. He's not afraid of them the way Tony is. But he'd been to more than enough Slater family gatherings before Breena got pregnant, and sure, playing with the kiddos was fine, but it did not instill an instant, oh yes, let's go have seventeen of them, sort of vibe. (Getting kidnapped and almost dying, on the other hand, that kicked up his and Breena's let's have a whole mess of babies desire.)

He thinks about how seeing the pregnancy test turn positive felt.

"Okay. I'm kind of fried right now, so if this is a little loopy…"

Tony waves that away.

"If I call Abby in here and snog the living daylights out of her, what would you do?"


Jimmy glares at him. "I've had four hours of sleep today. It's the first word that came to mind."

"Okay. You're snogging Abby. I'm gonna pull you off her, slap you upside the back of your head, lecture you about adultery and your marriage vows, slap you upside the back of the head again, lecture you more about breaking Breena's heart, slap you a third time, and then we're gonna talk about ruining your life, your wife's life, your kids' lives, and your best friends' lives, then you're getting one more slap, and then, because you are my friend and I love you, I'll give you a good five minute head-start before telling McGee and Breena about it, so there's a shot you don't get killed."

Jimmy nods. "Thanks for the head-start. Okay. I call Ziva down here and kiss the living daylights out of her. Let me guess, you walk in on that, and I better hope there are no bullets in your gun, right?"

For a second Tony's tempted to brush it off. Not really deal with how that would feel, but as he's doing that he gets how that would feel. That insane rush of pain and jealous and betrayal and just every sick-making, heartbreaking, punched in the gut and kicked in the balls while gasping for breath feeling of it.

So, instead of brushing it off, he nods. "I always have bullets in the gun. You've just got to hope it's not in reach."

"Fair enough. Well, Abby's as close to your wife as you can get without being your wife. You love her. She's your friend. You think she's attractive. She's your best friend's wife. And sure, you'd get angry on his behalf, and worried about the pain that'd cause us all, but it doesn't hit you in the balls, does it?"


"But me kissing Ziva does."


"And that's the difference between someone else's kid and your kid. It's you and Ziva and everything you've ever felt for each other turned into a person. Trust me, you may not feel it the second the pregnancy test turns positive, but at some point it will hit you who this child is, and you will fall in love with it."

"Thanks, Jimmy."

"So, good birthday?" Tony asks Tim.

He's still thinking. Talking to Jimmy helped. That was the most concrete description he's run into, and it's good perspective. But it didn't put his worries to rest, just calmed them some, so he's still thinking, and since he's got some free time, getting lunch with Tim on the way back from talking to a suspect, now seems like a good time to gather more intel on the ins and outs of life with a baby.

"Yeah, it was," Tim replies as he hands Tony his hot dog.

Tony smirks at him. "Get a little something special?"

Tim rolls his eyes a bit. Okay, honestly, no. Birthday celebrations have never been a really big deal for Tim in the first place, and in the second place they both worked late, Kelly was fussy, that first tooth is well on its way to poking out, along with tooth number two, so when it came to bedtime, they both just crashed. But he doesn't want to actually say that, so he intentionally misunderstands the question.

"Double chocolate mocha cupcake."

Tony looks appalled by that. "Dessert? It's your thirty-eighth birthday and you get dessert? That's depressing." And does not bode well for the whole life goes on post-baby thing. If you can't get laid on your birthday, something is very wrong.

"It was a really good cupcake," Tim says with a grin, and it was. He's kind of hoping that'll be enough of a brush off.

"You know what I was asking you."

Apparently not. "Why you asking?" He takes a bite of his grilled chicken wrap. "You haven't done that a long time."

"Well Mr.-I-Get-Laid-Every-Day, I was wondering how the whole having a kid thing was effecting that."

Ah... that makes more sense. He knows from Abby, who's been talking with Ziva about it, that she and Tony are creeping closer to parenthood, and with Anna less than two weeks old, it's probably on Tony's mind more, too.

So, as Tony's watching him, taking a sip of his Coke, Tim says, "Like Jimmy said, new baby, not great for sex. Things are getting better. She's sleeping through the night most nights, or she was until that tooth began to poke out, and we're starting to feel human again, but not back to every day, yet."

"So, what's better mean?"

"You want this much detail?" Stop being nosy is clear in his expression.

Tony rolls his eyes. No, he's not particularly interested in how often Tim has sex. What he actually wants is reassurance that everything he loves about being married isn't about to end. But he can't ask that; that's just way too damn vulnerable. He can ask about sex though, so he does. "I want a better idea of what comes after. It's really easy to just look and see tired, covered in baby puke, crabby, and in love. Those aren't hidden. When you get your sex life back is buried a lot deeper."

Okay, all of that is true, but... "Yeah, but, I don't think how much sex Abby and I are having is going to be really enlightening in regards as to how things'll be for you and Ziva. I mean… when do you like to do it… and no, do not actually answer that question for me. Just in general, if you tend to aim for a time your baby wants to be awake, that's going to cut into your numbers a lot deeper than if you like times when she sleeps. Kelly's bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and wants attention at one of the times that used to really work well for us, so that complicates thing. One of our favorite places is out now, too, so that's cutting the numbers down.

"What happens when the baby comes out'll effect things. How she thinks she looks, how she feels, all of that goes into it. If she thinks she's repulsive, nothing's happening.

"How well you function tired'll be a big thing. If you can't get it up on no sleep, you're never getting laid again."

"That's not encouraging."

Tim sort of shrugs at him. Might not be encouraging, but it's true. "Okay. It'll be fine. You have a baby, and you barely notice the difference. It's all sunshine and roses and lots of sleep and hours of lazy sex."

Tony squints at him. It's not quite a glare, not enough heat for that, but talking with Jimmy was a hell of a lot more useful. "That's really not encouraging. When did you get that sarcastic?"

Tim snorts and says dryly, "Probably when I had a baby and stopped getting laid every day. So, really, why are you checking up?"

"We're talking about it more, and..." Tony's never said this out loud to anyone who isn't Ziva, and even saying it, letting the rest of the world know to expect it is scary. "The idea is when we get Gibbs' replacement we'll start trying."

"That's great!" Tim says, genuinely happy for him.

Tony just sort of stares at him, irked. He supposes Tim could do a better job of not getting what he's not saying, but it'd be awfully difficult.

"Or not?" Tim's starting to get more of what Tony's not saying, tuning in more on the body language and less on the words. "Is that why you've turned down every resume that's passed your desk?"

"None of them have been good enough. I mean, I'm finding a replacement for Gibbs. This guy's got to walk on water."

"Tony, you're replacing Gibbs. All this new guy has to do is fill in your missing skill slots."

Tony rolls his eyes. "Am I telling you how to run your team?"


Tony looks at him.

"I'm laying off. So, is this not great?"

"Yes, it's great, but..." That sounds remarkably unconvincing, even to Tony.

"No." Tim's shaking his head. "That's not what great looks like. Great doesn't have a big, nervous 'but' hanging on it. What's going on?"

"It's fucking terrifying, okay? She knows that, but..."

"But..." Tim leads, trying to get more detail than fear of lack of sex out of Tony.

"Okay, you move in together, and that's scary as shit because she'll be there all the time, in all your stuff, learning everything there is to know about you. But at least with that, you know that if it doesn't work out, you head off, pack up your stuff, and find a new home. And you get married, and that's scary, too, but you still know you can get out of it. Things go south, and out you go. But if you have a kid, there's never an exit. You're tied to that woman for the rest of your life. And if you screw it up bad enough, she will always have a weapon to cut your heart out with."

Tim's not sure what to say to that. Probably because he doesn't think of his relationship with Abby as a collection of levels in which his different exits are being cut off. It's not even something that hits him on any level. Fifty years from now, they'll be the old couple down the street with the gray hair and the tattoos. They're forever, and that's just it.

"Tony… Why do you always think you're going to screw it up?" Tim gets that Tony can't rest easy in the idea that Ziva'll be there forever. Every other woman he's ever cared about has left. So, he gets that. But being left and screwing things up so that she leaves is something different. And he doesn't get why Tony's default position on relationships in general and kids in specific is he will screw it up.

There are things Tony's never said to Tim. Things he doesn't exactly want to get into. Stuff Ziva knows, of course, and has known for quite a while. But the rest of them…

No. That's not the sort of thing he wants to talk about.

Of course, he's kind of touched on it, or near it, with Tim, once. Back when they were talking about kids before any of them had one. And he mentioned the whole constantly looking at other women thing…

But he doesn't think Tim actually got what he meant by that. He thinks Tim just filed that under overactive sex-drive and never thought about it again.

Of course, saying it would be not just revealing, and probably more revealing than he wants to get, but it would blow the whole, just being a guy cover he's using to shreds.

On the other hand this is McGee. He might not understand, not on any sort of visceral level, but he won't mock him, won't make him feel bad for it, and if he tells him to back off, he will.

And he'll give him better advice for it.

So… "You know how you used to call me a misogynist or womanizer?"

"Yeah. I remember that." Though he's got no idea why Tony's bringing it up, let alone now. It's been years since he was that guy hooking up with anything in a skirt, so it's been years since Tim's called him out on it.

"That's not quite it…" He looks up at the roof of the car they're sitting in. Tim's not eating, listening intently to this, knowing it's important. "I'm a sex addict. I get really… just… There's more to it than I like to get laid."

Tim blinks, slowly. He's never even thought of that, but, thinking of it, that makes a whole lot of sense. That explains the really edgy, tense, crabby sort of mood Tony used to get in whenever he hit a dry spell. Tim certainly remembers so horny you're climbing the walls, but that's different than the sort of edge Tony used to get.

And then he really gets it, gets why when you get your sex life back would matter a whole lot more to Tony.
Tony sees him put it together and says, "I screw things up. I screw relationships up. Besides Wendy, this is the longest I've ever managed to make it with one woman."

"That's good. Ziva knows why you're afraid you'll screw this up, right?"

"Yeah, she does."

"Does she understand?" Because Tim figures there's a difference between knowing someone is an addict, and understanding what that actually means.

"As well as anyone who's not can, yes, she does."

"Okay. So… what are you afraid of?"

Tony doesn't look at him when he says, "That when push comes to shove, she'll be focused on the baby, because she should be focused on the baby, because it's a baby, and focusing on it is the job and… And… But she won't be focused on me, and I'll fall off the wagon because I'm not getting my regular fix. I mean, I know I can go a while. I can do two months on my own before I start to have problems, but…"

"Is it just sex, or…" Tim feels really uncomfortable trying to clarify this, but if they're talking about it… "I mean… Is it about affection and time and attention or… or is it literally just you need to get laid?"

"Both. I can go a lot longer without sex if I'm distracted or if someone is keeping me emotionally happy. But even with that, I…" Tony knows Tim doesn't get it. He's not an addict, and doesn't get that edgy, itchy, world's-gonna-start-falling-apart-if-I-don't-get-what-I-need sensation. "I've never made it past three months."

"Oh. So what you're really asking is when you do get your wife back?"

"Yeah. I guess."

Tim sighs. "I don't know. She's going to be focused on the baby and her at first, and that's going to be pretty much it, because like you said, that's the job. But eventually you get your wife back. She doesn't stop being your wife because she had a baby. Just like you don't stop being her husband because you're a dad.

"When Kelly was brand new, and Abby was sick and depressed, I was carrying her, and Kelly, and me. And thank God for Gibbs and Breena, because they were carrying us, too. But that's this whole family thing, people who will carry you when you can't walk.

"We'll carry you Tony. As much as you'll let us. And eventually, you will get Ziva back."

Tony doesn't look like that's terribly reassuring. And Tim kind of wishes he can just say, 'Don't worry, it'll all be fine,' but he doesn't know if that'll be true for Tony. Kids do change things. They change things a lot. And if you're well-suited for each other and children, the tons of work necessary to raise kids draws you closer to each other, and you end up more deeply in love with each other because of it.

But if you're not, and you know you're not… There are plenty of decisions you can take back, or fix, or change, but this isn't one of them. It's an all-in or nothing sort of thing.

Tony nods at that, eats another bite of his dog, and changes the subject to the case they're on.

When it comes down to it, it's a lot like skydiving. And sure, he can talk to Tim or Jimmy, and he can think about it, ponder why he's scared, make plans with the therapist for how to deal with it, but none of that is actually jumping out of the plane.

And he is scared.

He's probably more scared than he's ever been of anything in his life. (Including, literally, jumping, well… getting pushed, out of a plane.)

But on the ground there's a woman, a woman he loves more than anything else, more than he loves himself, and she says he'll make it. She says he'll be fine.

He's going to jump. He knows it. He trusts that she's right, but… The ground's a million miles below, and the wind's rushing past his ears, and… Not yet. He can't throw himself out of the plane, yet.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Shards To A Whole: The Bitter Pill

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

Chapter 326: The Bitter Pill

He's fired the text off before it occurs to Gibbs that just maybe doing it was a little odd.

Well, maybe not odd.


God-awful stupid? He sighs, pocketing his phone.

Like the rest of the crew, he got the text at one in the morning with the picture of Anna. He was still up, working on his bed, (no shot of him sleeping until he knew they were out of the woods, so to speak) so he sent a quick one back to Jimmy asking if they wanted visitors now, or later, and got one back saying that morning was soon enough.

So he went to sleep, looking forward to seeing his newest girl. (And of course there is never a second's doubt that this is one of his girls. He's kind of like Molly in that.)

As he was falling asleep, he found himself feeling especially happy, and really, sincerely looking forward to telling Rachel about this. And sure, he's looking forward to telling Fornell and LJ and Vance about it, but he's just lighting up at the idea of telling Rachel, imagining showing her the pictures, and the look on her face as he does it.

He got there in the morning after the McGees, but before Tony and Ziva, and once he got a chance to hold Anna, he asked Abby to take a picture of them, and she did, and once he handed her back to Breena, he sent the shot to Rachel, feeling very pleased about the world in general, and showing her his newest baby in specific.

Which is when it occurs to him that the person, the woman, he most wants to share this with is not his friend or girlfriend, but his therapist.

He doesn't want to show Anna off in a Look, I'm making progress sort of way, because adopting baby girls was never an area where he felt like he needed any help. No, the feeling that's going with this is one that he remembers, most recently from Susan, and before her, Hollis, that desire to share the good parts of your life with someone who you enjoy. Someone who will enjoy them with you.

A friend.

(If he's being honest, a more than friend.)

Everyone else is cooing over Anna, so he makes some sort of excuse, and heads off, none of them really paying attention to him, because he's not the star of the show, not today.

He's pacing the hallway feeling fairly black about the whole thing when he gets back: Congratulations! She's beautiful, Jethro. Everyone okay?

Yeah. Tired, sore, but you know how that goes. He's aware of the fact that her youngest child, a son, is a sophomore in high school right now.

Yes, I do. Bring more pictures Monday?

The question mark means it's a request, not an assignment. So he texts back. Sure.

Good! See you then.

Warm, polite, focused. Enthusiastic about the good things in his life, but even with that, she's drawing the lines. She'll see him on Monday, during their appointment, because she's his therapist, not his friend (or more than friend.)

He's leaning against the wall, slipping his phone into his pocket, head back, and eyes closed when he hears, "Are you all right, Jethro?"

"Fine, Penny."

She's not buying that, at all. And, if he's the clan's patriarch, she's the matriarch, and anyone with an ounce of sense in his head knows pulling bullshit on grandma isn't going to fly. "You were fine five minutes ago, and then you weren't. Really, are you okay? Get some bad news?"

He shakes his head and says, "Yeah, I'm fine."

She snorts at that, leans next to him against the wall, and squeezes his hand. "Want some company while you stew in your 'fine'?" He is suddenly well-aware of where Tim got his font of sarcasm.

"Nah. Go, enjoy Anna. Nothing going on with me that's that interesting."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. She won't be brand new forever, and I'll still be old and kind of stupid tomorrow."

"How about you come with me? You're right, she won't be brand new forever, and snuggling tiny, little babies tends to help with feeling stupid and old."

"I'll be there in a minute."

"Okay," she says as she walks off. One of the things he appreciates about Penny is that she's well aware of the fact that he's full of shit right now, and she's offering to help him with it, but she also recognizes and respects the fact that he's a grown-up, one of her equals, and she doesn't push when he makes it clear he'd like to be alone in his stupid.

He sighs again, wondering how the hell to get himself out of this, without actually doing what he needs to do to get himself out of it, because right now, the idea of cutting Rachel out of his life, stopping seeing her, is just too depressing to bear for more than a second.

Of course, at the same time, he knows what's going to happen if he keeps seeing her, and that's depressing, too.

He's fifty-six, fifty-seven and mandatory retirement coming up in a month. Three ex-wives. More ex-girlfriends than he wants to count. He thought he'd made every emotional mistake a man could make. Thought he was done getting himself into stupid emotional tangles that weren't good for anyone.

But, of course, he's not.

Noooo... He's the dumb fuck falling in love with his therapist. The same woman who just about flat out told him not to fall in love with her.

His married therapist.

It hits him; he doesn't actually know that for a fact. Rachel will, occasionally, talk about her children (there are three of them, one out of the house, one in college, one in high school) but she never mentions Cranston. He's never specifically asked about him, but they'll often talk a bit about what both of them were doing over the weekend, and while she'll mention things with the kids, she doesn't mention him.

She also doesn't have any pictures of him up in her office. There's a few graduation shots, two high school, one college, of her and the three kids, but not any with him in them.

Which would make sense, if he's the one taking the pictures.


There is a... Tim would call it a meta voice, but Gibbs is not Tim, so he doesn't have much of a name for it, but whatever this thing is, it's well aware of the fact that he's desperately grasping at straws, because he knows what the right thing to do is (stop seeing Rachel), but he doesn't want to do the right thing.

For that matter, since he said it to Fornell, mentioned that he couldn't ask the one he was interested in out, he's known what the right thing to do is.

But he doesn't want to do it.

He wants to go see her on Mondays (and the other days of the week, too, but he can't, so he'll settle for Mondays) and talk with her, watch the way the early morning sun lights her face and hair, enjoy the sound of her voice, the way she watches him as he speaks, the way her fingers stroke over the cup of coffee, and the expression on her face when he brings her a flavor combination she especially likes, revel in time spent with an attractive woman he can say absolutely anything to without fear.

He hasn't let his interior fantasies go past just talking to her. Probably because she is married. (You don't know that. Stop kidding yourself, Gunny. That is one married woman!) Definitely because if he breaks that line, even in his mind, he stops being able to say that she's just a friend, and this is how friends feel about each other, and all the rest of the lies he's been telling himself since Fornell looked at him and said, "God, you are so lonely, aren't you?"

He sighs and straightens up. He can hear voices coming from Jimmy and Breena's room, and his internal clock is good enough that he knows his team is getting ready to head to work.

He slaps a happy smile on his face, marches himself into their room, kisses Breena goodbye, pets Anna one last time, gives Molly a big, whirling hug, and promises to come over to Tim and Abby's tonight to read her a very special goodnight story picked out especially for her, Jimmy gets a slap on the shoulder and a one-armed hug, and then he heads off with Tim, Abby, Tony and Ziva. Time to go to work and, hopefully, stop some bad guys.

Or spend a rather contemplative day doing paperwork.

Probably a bad day for it. A good case would have gotten his mind off it. (You know you're distracted when Draga, who still has to read the forms, and look up information to fill them out, is going through them faster than you are.)

But there wasn't a good case, or a bad one, or any sort of case at all.

Tim spent two hours on the paperwork, and then vanished down to the basement to mingle with the Minions some more.

And Tony, who is usually good for a distraction, is also musing something. He's going through his paperwork even slower than Gibbs is. Gibbs can feel something is up with him, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put together Tony's fear of babies, visiting Anna, and the way he keeps looking at Ziva whenever she's got her head down filling out the forms, and come up with Tony's got babies on his mind.

So, instead of a juicy murder, and bad guys to hunt down, there was paperwork, and showing Draga and Leon baby pictures. And, in that he can fill a lot of this paperwork out on automatic, not needing to think much about it, there was time to come up with something of a plan.

It's a bad plan. It's a goddamn awful stupid plan. That little voice knows it. Is telling him it's a bad plan. But it's not as bad as it could be. And it is as much as a middle ground as he can stand right now.

So, after a day of paperwork, he heads home, and it hits him while driving there, that now, Tim and Abby's house is home, too. There's a shift. He knew he was going there, so he could lend a hand on baby wrangling, and he drove it on automatic, not needing to think the way there. But today was the first time he realized that he was heading home. His house is still home, too. Anywhere his tools live is home. But, this house with the kids is home, too.

He beats them there, because he's not picking up Molly.

He spends a few minutes playing with Kelly and talking to Heather, seeing how today went. (About average. Looks like that first tooth might be thinking of popping out soon. Kelly's been extra-drooly and kind of irritable today, but the little white mark on the gums that means tooth soon isn't there. Either way, Heather's on top of it; she's got teething rings in the freezer and baby Orajel in the medicine cabinet, ready to go. In that Kelly's gnawing on his knuckle, Gibbs is thinking Heather may be onto something with the whole teething soon thing.)

Heather's looking at him expectantly, not really sure about something, when it hits him that what she's not really sure about is if him showing up means she can head home for the day.

He smiles at her, trying to put her at ease, and says, "How about you head off, get out of here before traffic gets too nasty? I'll give them the teething report."

"You sure it's okay?"

"Yeah." He nods, smiles reassuringly. "They're only a few minutes behind me, picking up Molly, but they won't mind if you leave Kelly with me. Baby girl and I get along fine."

She stares at him, sees the obvious ease with which he's holding Kelly, and the peaceful way she's chewing on his fingers, and decides, that yes, he'll do on his own, for a few minutes at least. "Okay."

Tim and Abby do show up a few minutes later, and the five of them have a calm dinner. Having learned their lesson last night, dinner was offered as an accomplished fact. "Molly, dinner time. We're having chicken and broccoli!"

And he does whip out a "special story" for Molly.

Okay, technically he's been reading it to Kelly every now and again, when she's not quite restful and he wants something a bit longer than Goodnight Moon, but he's also pretty sure she won't rat him out.

It's a story one of Shannon's friends had written, self-published, sold probably twenty-five copies, but they got one of them. It's a little girl and her daddy sailing. (He's fairly sure that's why Shannon bought it.) It's basically an introduction to a boat, and all the parts, and, honestly, kind of boring if you don't like to sail. (Okay, honestly, even if you do like to sail, it's kind of boring.)

But it's quiet, and long (ish), and he can read it in a dulled-down voice that puts babies to sleep nice and easy. And both of them are seconds away from asleep when he finishes, gets them laid down, and creeps out to the sound of two little girls breathing deep and easy.

He heads down the stairs, hears typing from Tim's office, and the TV from the living room. He feels marginally bad about cutting into Tim's writing time, but he figures by this point, Tim knows that he can just toss him if it's terribly inconvenient.

(And he also knows that he asks for help so rarely, especially on something personal, that there's no way Tim'll toss him unless he's literally in the middle of the thrilling climax of whatever he's writing.)

But, this'll hold for a moment or two. Hold for him to get a little more loosened up, more comfortable actually saying the words in his head. So, he heads to the kitchen, finds the bottle of bourbon they keep in the pantry for him, realizes that since this isn't his basement he should probably find a glass for it, so he does, pours himself some, and then finds himself walking into the living room and sitting next to Abby instead of seeing what Tim's up to.

She's watching TV. Pretty intently from the looks of it. He kind of recognizes the characters, he's seen her watching them before. The two pretty boys who keep pretending to be FBI agents but aren't.

"Is it good?" he asks her.

"It's awesome, Gibbs."

"Didn't know you liked cop shows." Then something weird happened, some sort of monster popped out of nowhere and one of the pretty boys, the one with the really long and not even remotely FBI approved hair killed the absolute living hell out of it. "This isn't a cop show, is it?"

"Nope. Those two, the one with all the blood on him is Sam, and the other one is Dean, pretend to be Feds sometimes, but they aren't really."

Gibbs nods, wondering what that thing Sam just killed was. "I'm getting that. Why are they pretending to be cops?"

"It's a long story. Mostly so they can get information, find the monsters, and kill them."

"Ah." He stands back up. He doesn't actually like horror movies or shows. He's experienced more fear than any one man ever needs, and feels no need for adding any more to his life.

"We can watch something else if you want. I've seen this once already. Newest one starts in an hour, and I'm just refreshing my memory on what happened last week."

"No. I'm good. Might drop in on Tim for a sec, then maybe turn in early."


The door to Tim's office is shut. From what he's seen doors are almost never shut in this house, so that means knock. So he does.

"Come in."

"Hey. Am I interrupting?" He hadn't heard any typing before he knocked, but he still wants to check.
Tim had been lounging back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, but he sits up and says, "Thinking, but I can take a break. What's up?"

"Can you do something for me?" Gibbs asks as he heads into Tim's office.

"Probably." Tim's looking a bit alarmed, and it hits Gibbs that he's sounding nervous. He takes a breath, and summons his No Shame vibe. "What do you need?"

"It's kind of personal."

He might now be sounding nervous anymore, but he did for a second there, and between that and personal, he's got all of Tim's attention riveted to him. "Okay, what's up?"

He tells Tim, and sees Tim wince as he's going through it. He wraps up with his great brainstorm: "She never, ever mentions Cranston, I… If she's really married, Monday's our last session and I'll cut it off, I'm not gonna… I mean, either way, Monday's the last day, but… if she's not married… Maybe, in a while…"

Tim's never seen Gibbs look this indecisive. "You want me to check and see if she's really married?"

"Yeah." He feels dumb as hell saying it, but if she is, he'll cut it off and not see her again. If she isn't, he'll cut if off, let her go for a good six months, at least, try to date some in the meantime, and if no one else catches his fancy, he'll call her up and ask her out. "She's got no pictures of him in her office. I ask her, sometimes, about how her life is going, and she never mentions him. I don't even know his first name. So…"

Tim drags his chair to his computer, and pulls the other one in front of it for Jethro to sit. And he does.

Tim turns everything on, and then sits back, looking at him, and Gibbs can read that look, half-sad, half-warning, all concern. And once the computer's finished booting up, Tim says to him, "Jethro… If she's a widow, or divorced, or if there never was a Cranston… if he's just a shield she put in place to help keep patients in line… It's a bad idea. She knows everything about you. You know nothing about her. I know she's kind and a good listener and probably the closest, most intimate relationship you've had with a woman in decades, but it's her JOB. You are paying her to be kind and listen." He shuts the door and says very quietly, once he's sitting again, "It's like falling in love with a hooker."

"I know." And he does. He really does, and feels stupid as hell for it, but, it's real. And the fact that it's stupid doesn't make it any less real, and… well, not like he's never met a guy who fell for his favorite hooker before, or… whatever this is. "Will you check for me?"

"Sure." Tim nods, gets online, and hits his first best guess of how to find this out.

It doesn't take long. Few seconds to get into Facebook, and from there to find her personal page. (Rachel Todd) Gibbs is sitting right next to him, watching him search, which means he can't lie about what he finds, but… God he's tempted. If there's no actual Cranston, he was ready to lie his ass off and say there was.

But, a few minutes into it, he does find her Facebook page, and he does find the little married heart, and a few more seconds located a bunch of pictures of the two of them.

Gibbs is smiling at the page, and Tim has the sense he's doing it because he can smile or curse, and he's not willing to start cursing up a blue streak in the middle of his office, with Abby right nearby.

Tim squeezes his hand. He doesn't say anything, just gets up, and a minute later is back with a drink of his own (tea) and the bottle of bourbon.

Gibbs adds another inch to his glass, nods, smile still on his face, eyes so sad. "They look happy, don't they?"

Gibbs has focused in on a shot of Rachel, a man with blue eyes and gray hair, both of them sitting on what looks like someone's back porch, his arms around her, her head leaning on his shoulder, both of them smiling.

"Yeah. They do," Tim answers.

Gibbs takes a big gulp of the drink. "She basically told me not to fall in love with her."

Tim smiles, gently, and nods.

"She flat out told me we weren't dating."

"Looks like she knew you pretty well."

"Yeah." He rubs his forehead, running his hand through his hair, and takes another drink. "She had me pegged before I got in the room."

"She's good at her job, good at people."

"And beautiful, and smart, and funny, and…" He's not sure how to finish that.

"Comfortable? Intimate?"


"That's her job."

Gibbs sighs, drinking a bit more. "I know. Doesn't make it hurt less."

"Yeah. What do you want to do? We can sit here and drink if you like. We can head into the living room and play some Plants Versus Zombies. Won't fix a broken heart, but it might distract you some."

He shakes his head. "Don't want to explain this to Abby."

"Okay. I won't tell her, either. But she'll understand if you do tell her."

"I know she will... Just feel so god-awful stupid about this. It's almost as bad as falling for her in the first place. I can't have her. I knew I couldn't have her. She told me not to fall for her, and I did anyway. I feel like I shot myself in the ass, intentionally."

"The single man who doesn't fall in love with a smart, funny, beautiful woman who listens to him, encourages him to be the man he wants to be, never judges him, and accepts everything he has to offer is gay. And he'd fall the for handsome man who did the same thing for him. That's just who we are."

Gibbs shrugs.

"Seriously. It's not stupid to want someone who gives you almost everything you crave."

Gibbs shakes his head at that. It feels stupid. Just because it's normal doesn't make it any easier. "Told Abby I'd drop in on you and then turn in early," Jethro says, standing and picking up his glass.

"Okay." Tim nods, squeezes his hand again.

If you name a problem, if you admit it's there, you have to deal with it. At least, if you're Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you do.

So, he knows, as he drags himself into Rachel's office Monday morning, his usual going-to-see-her spring in his step completely absent, that this is it. It's not fair to him to keep going, keep pretending that there's more here than there actually is. It's not fair to her, because if he keeps wrapping himself in this fantasy, he'll eventually do something (even more) monumentally stupid with it.

So, today's it. The end. And that hurts so much more than he thought it would, and vastly more than he's willing to admit to anyone.

"So, Jethro, same time next week?"

He smiles sadly at her, been doing it all morning, not really talking, just looking at her and the way the light hits her face and hair. "Nah. Think this was it."

"Oh." He sees it in her face, that she knew this was happening and that it was a problem, and that she appreciates him backing off without having to do it herself, and she very much appreciates that he's not going to push it, not going to make her deal with some sort of awkward and embarrassing I-love-you… type thing.

He sees that she trusted him to let her help him as much as she could, and then to back off when he got in too deep. He respects that, but it doesn't make it hurt less.


She doesn't make him say why he's done, which he thinks is a kindness. Of course, she is kind, that's part of the problem. He stands up to leave, and she takes both of his hands in hers, looks him in the eye, and says, "You're going to be okay."

He nods, still sad, swallows hard, and says, "Sure. Eventually." And as much as right now hurts, he knows that's true. He will, eventually, be okay. Then he turns away and heads out of her office.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 325

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

Chapter 325: Anna Victoria Palmer

December 7th, yet another Monday at work. Tim stops down in the basement, noticing that one of the Minions had donated a K-cup caddy to the coffee station, and the rest of them weren't shy about listing what they liked on the whiteboard.

He's getting into the habit of buying more coffee for them each weekend, and bringing it in on Monday mornings. He can't really tell, because he's not down there all the time, but they seem to like it.

He's also getting more of a sense of the people who'll be working for him. If he had his way, he'd fire four of them, reassign another two, and start rebuilding from the six that don't seem satisfied with how the department is working.

But he's a government employee, with twelve other government employees, short of them stealing the computers, sexually harassing each other, or leaking NCIS secrets to the media, he basically can't fire them.

Which means he's got to somehow make four guys he'd rather not work with because they're under the impression that a nine-to-five, crime works on my schedule, not the other way around attitude is enough, turn into real cops, or decide to leave this cushy, safe, well-paid position.

He's hoping they leave.

He's guessing that if Manner heads off after he shows up, they'll follow. But he's not sure about that.

Either way, it's not happening today. He stops by Ingram's desk (one of the dissatisfied-looking ones) and spends (like he's been doing with each of them, whenever he gets the chance) an hour or so talking with her, finding out what case she's on, how it's going, which cases she's worked in the past.

She's pleasant, competent, and he gets the sense that dissatisfied comes from being a hacker stuck on a database job. He makes a mental note to find out who's best at what, and try to make sure cases get sorted that way.

There's no reason why someone's who's main specialty is getting in and out fast and sneaky should be sorting fifteen million data points looking for a pattern. Especially not when the person in the cubical one over specializes in sorting data.

You going to grace us with your presence today? Tim reads off his phone.

On the elevator, heading up. I'm not leaving you with all the paperwork. He sends back to Tony.


Just making sure the Minions are kept properly caffeinated. He can feel Tony snigger at that.

You going to let them know you're calling them the Minions?

Tim's turn to laugh. The doors open, and he heads over to his desk, saying, "I don't know. It'll depend a lot on how they do," as he passes Tony's desk. "Don't want to horrify them." He pulls the stack of papers toward him.

"Maybe you do. Might help keep them in line." Tony replies.

"What are we talking about?" Draga asks.

"The care and feeding of Minions," Tony replies.

Draga and Ziva roll their eyes.

"How about it, Gibbs? Is being feared the secret to success?" Tony asks. It still feels weird to Tim to hear Tony address Gibbs like that, instead of the usual Boss, but... yeah, everything changes.

"Kept you three in line," Gibbs says calmly. "But horrified isn't scared."

Tim's nodding at that. "Scary's fine. Oh my god, he's such a dork! isn't what I'm aiming for."

Tony looks like he's about to say something along the lines of, "If the shoe fits..." But he doesn't. He nods to the papers on Tim's desk. "They're not filling themselves out."

"On it."

"And how was this morning, Jimmy?"

Jimmy's noticed, that for the last year or so, when Ducky is talking about personal things, he refers to him as Jimmy, but when they talk professionally, especially if someone else is around, he's still Mr. Palmer.

So, by the use of his first name, Jimmy knows that's a question about home and family, and not the stack of paperwork he's wading through.

"Breena's tired. She's not really sleeping. She seemed pretty relieved to get Molly and I out of the house."

"Enjoying what is hopefully a last few minutes of restful solitude before the upcoming excitement?"

"I hope so. She had pretty steady contractions all weekend long, not a lot of them, but I don't think more than two hours went by without one. Then last night they just stopped. I think Anna's trying to go full term."

"She will come when she's ready."

"Yeah. I know, trust me. But this part is wearying. Especially for Breena. But weeks of being on high alert aren't easy for me, either."

Ducky nods, understanding what Jimmy is saying, and isn't. "Is everything ready?"

"Oh yeah, since Thanksgiving."

Ducky pats his bag. "And I, too, am ready."

"Good." Jimmy looks down at the form in front of him, and goes back to filling it out. They work that way for several more minutes, Jimmy filling out the paperwork, Ducky reading through a cold-case, working up a psychological profile of their perp.

Then Jimmy's phone buzzes. He answers it absently, not checking the name, eyes on the form. "Palmer."

"Jimmy." Breena's voice, with a certain breathy quality he immediately recognizes.


"Water broke a minute ago."

"I'll be home in twenty minutes."

Ducky's already tidying up his files, getting ready to go, huge grin on his face.

Tim is filling out paperwork when Jimmy rushes over, Molly's car seat in hand, plunks it down next to Tim's chair, grins at all four of them, and then rushes back out again.

Different variations of "Good luck!" follow his rapidly retreating form.

Tim picks up his phone and sends down to Abby, Detour en route home. Picking up Molly, too!

Just got the text from Breena! Comes back to him. He looks up and notices the rest of his team is also reading off of their cells, so it seems that Team Gibbs is all on the same page.

Sometime, hopefully in the next 24 hours, Anna Palmer would be on the outside!

At twenty-two months old Molly Palmer can (mostly) feed herself. She has very definite ideas as to what she will or will not eat. She has a well-chewed stuffed-corgi (Named Doggy, she's not really imaginative with names.) she adores and will not sleep without. She prefers her hair down, likes dresses more than pants, and will have a literal hissy fit if you attempt to make her wear something other than pink shoes.

She is, in other words, a perfectly normal toddler.

She is also pretty firmly mired in the part of life where she likes surprises, but she also starts to get edgy and irritable if too many of them pile on top of each other.

She does much better with a certain routine.

And the addition of a little sister to the mix means routine will never be the same.

And, while it is true that she has no idea how things are about to change, it is also true that she is well aware of the general vibe of things being different around her house lately, and to say that she's been a bit on edge is not an exaggeration.

Molly is pleased to see them when they go to her daycare to pick her up. Jimmy and Breena'd been telling her for few days, since the contractions started kicking up, that one day Uncle Tim or Aunt Abby might be picking her up from daycare, and if that happened, then very soon she'd get to meet her little sister.

Meeting little sister doesn't mean much to her.

Sleepover at Uncle Tim and Aunt Abby's on the other hand… That interests her.

So, she's excited, babbling away about the baby as Uncle Tim fetches her stuff and Aunt Abby gets her into her winter clothing. And, on the car ride home, they've gone through about six versions of "When's baby coming?" when a new concern surfaces, "Doggy!"

Abby looks to Tim, who was in charge of packing things up, and he looks to the back seat, valiantly hoping that Molly carried her pet doggy into the car with her, because he knows he didn't touch it.

But, of course, Doggy is not back there.

And while it's true that two seconds ago she was in a pretty good mood, she's tearing up at the lack of Doggy.

Abby makes a quick executive decision, and whips them through a u-turn as soon as she can make one. Trying to get an excited toddler to sleep in a new place is almost impossible. Trying to get an excited toddler to sleep in a new place without her beloved Doggy is impossible.

"We're getting Doggy."

Tim quickly texts Heather, lets her know they're going to be a little bit later than expected. And, five minutes later, back at the daycare center, he hops out, locates Doggy (He was in the far back of her cubby.) and brings him back to what is now a full on sobbing toddler, who is, until Doggy appears, inconsolable at the idea that her precious may be lost.

Abby looks over at him, and Tim shakes his head, well aware of the fact that they've got a VERY excited little girl on their hands, and that all plans for tonight are going to revolve around being as calm, and quiet, and boring as possible.

One day shy of eleven months, Jimmy thinks.

In a lot of ways, it feels very different. Everyone who comes in is happy to see them. That's a huge difference. Everyone is smiling. Ducky's here, so are Breena's parents (just like last time) but this time no one is crying. That's a step in the right direction, right?

They're in the maternity ward this time. Another huge difference. (Their OB had thought delivering a still born baby in the maternity ward, where they'd be able to hear other new babies crying, would be an extra layer of trauma on top of what was already the worst day of their lives. They'd been in the general ward last time.)

Their pediatrician has stopped by to look in on them. Very, very big (and welcome) difference.

There's a little warmer and bassinette waiting for Anna. (That's a massive relief.)

The monitor sounds different, and this time three lines, Breena's heartbeat, her contractions, and Anna's heartbeat are all zig zagging across the monitor.

But it smells the same, and Breena's in a gown, in a bed, again. Same sort of bed. And contractions, no matter the state of the child being slowly pushed out, feel the same. And what you do to deal with those contractions, the walking, the back rubbing, all of it, is exactly the same. So it's easy, for both of them, to slip in time, lost in the shockingly fresh memories of Jon's delivery.

Their doctor and Ducky had mentioned that this would happen. They both knew it, felt it, the fear, the sorrow, during each step of Anna's pregnancy, as they went through the same motions, but it's hitting harder here.

The happiness of this, the rational knowledge that Anna is fine, is tempered with the memory of doing this with Jon, when everything wasn't fine, and both of their hearts broke as they said goodbye to the dream of their son.

Don't give an excited toddler choices. Not if you don't want a melt-down.

Tim and Abby are learning this the hard way. They'd gotten Molly home, taken her and her things upstairs, showed her the little bed they had made up for her on the floor right next to Kelly's crib. (Sleeping in the same room as Kelly is a big deal. They used to just put both of them in the crib together, but at six months and not quite two, they don't both fit anymore.) Showed her the bathroom where she'd be getting her tubby that night (and tomorrow night, maybe the night after that if Jimmy and Breena want a bit more time on their own with Anna), how they had a special bottle of (pink!) shampoo waiting for her as well as her very own toothbrush and toothpaste (also pink!) and a brand new (more pink!) unicorn towel.

(It's possible that Tim might be remembering a bit of how it felt to have a new baby come home, and how no one paid much attention to him for, oh, a month after that, and so he's gone a little too far in the other direction for Molly.)

All of that goes well. Abby gets Kelly fed while Tim lingers with Molly, letting her take her time to explore everything. She's been upstairs in their house before, but this is the first time she's done it sans parents. Plus, he's not sure how good her memory is and how well she's got the idea of their upstairs in her mind.

But, eventually she's bored with messing around in the bathroom and nursery, so he takes her hand, helping her stay steady as she heads down the steps, and they go to get some dinner.

Molly loves chicken nuggets. Molly loves pizza. Both of those foods are occasional treats at Jimmy and Breena's. And, of course, Tim got both for her.

"Do you want pizza or nuggets for dinner?" he asks as he puts her in the booster seat they've got on one of the chairs next to Kelly in her highchair.


"Then we'll have nuggets."

He gets them out, while Abby continues to feed Kelly her cereal, talking with Molly a bit about that, then she notices that he's putting the nuggets on a baking sheet, and says, "Pizza!"

"Okay, fine, we can do pizza."

He puts the nuggets back in the bag, seals it up, tucks it back into the freezer, and grabs the pizza. "See, yummy pizza."

"No. No. No."


"No pizza!" She's extremely definite at that, frowning at him in a very determined way.

"Do you want nuggets?" Tim asks.


He holds up the pizza. "I'm holding the pizza. Do you want the nuggets?"


Okay, fine, they can do nuggets. He turns to put the pizza back in the freezer and was met with a teary chorus of "Pizza!"

Tim feels like he's about to rip his hair out when Abby has a brainstorm and says, "Molly, do you want both?"

"Yes!" (sniffle, sniffle, snort, cry)

"I will make you both."

That got a tiny smile.

"You're making great progress, Breena. You're at six centimeters. Do you want to start some medication for the pain?" Dr. Jun, their OB asks.

"God, yes!"

"Okay. I'll get the anesthesiologist in, and we'll get you hooked up with an epidural."

"Thank you." Her hand grips tighter against Jimmy's as she says that, yet another contraction cresting through her hips and back. They've been here seven hours and gone from one centimeter to six centimeters, that's making good time, and more than far enough along that the risk of the anesthetic slowing things down is minimal.

She's tired, she's hurting, and right now having something to take all of that away, and let both of them get something of a nap before the pushing starts, probably, given the speed things have been moving, around eleven or twelve tonight, sounds like a really good plan.

Molly Palmer is normally a sunny, happy, and fun little girl. She's normally in possession of a pleasant and laid-back temperament, able to roll with the punches.

She's also, normally, not in a strange house, unable to have her Mommy read her her goodnight story, with a whole lot of excitement about this whole, 'baby' thing.

So, she's pretty fried, and though bath time went well (she and Kelly both enjoyed being in the tubby together, while Abby got them soaped up and rinsed off), and the first part of story time (Tim with Kelly cuddled on his chest, Molly in his lap, quietly reading Goodnight Moon) went well, there was this point, when he laid Kelly down to sleep, and then tucked Molly in, that it finally occurred to her that Mommy and Daddy are not going to put her to bed, and they will not be reading her any stories and she just completely melted down.

Which set off Kelly.

And just about set off Tim.

He gets Molly out of the nursery, and Abby goes in to get Kelly calmed down, while he holds onto Molly, cuddling her, patting her back, quietly telling her about how she's going to get to see Mommy and Daddy tomorrow, while she wails inconsolably for her Mama.

He's having no luck, at all, getting her quieted down.

So, he takes his phone out, one handed, and begins to text, while walking Molly around his living room.

Can you leave long enough to tell a story or two?

He doesn't hear anything back for a minute, and then gets. Breena's at six centimeters. I can get away for a bit. Any particular story?

"Thank you," Tim whispers.

Molly's completely fried, and we're having no luck calming her down. I'm thinking that telling her that her Ducky is coming might help.

I'll be there as soon as I can, Timothy.

Ducky, like Jeannie and Ed, has been hovering around the edges of the birth. In the room some, offering support and comfort. In the waiting room some, offering them privacy, as well.

Ed looks over at him as he tucks his phone back into his pocket. "Someone die?"

"No." Ducky smiles. "Fortunately. It seems our Miss Molly has just realized her mother and father will not be providing her usual good night tuck in, and she is complaining vigorously at that."

Jeannie smiles, knowing how that works. She nods briefly at Ed, and then at Ducky, as well. And while it is true that Ed and Ducky are not overwhelmingly fond of each other, they are both extraordinarily fond of Molly, and emergency story-time tuck ins sounds like a job for the Grandpa squad.

Or as Molly calls them "My Ducky" and "Papa!"

Tim didn't expect to see Ducky and Ed show up at his house, but he has to admit Molly is pleased to see them, and between Ducky taking her in his arms, saying, "Oh, my Molly, what has you so sad, dear?" and Ed petting the back of her head, kissing her cheek, cooing over his darling girl, that they did get her calmed down.

Eventually, she ends up in Ed's arms, sucking her thumb, eyes drooping as Ducky tells her the story of how giraffes ended up so tall.

And they did get her tucked in about twenty minutes later, dead asleep.

"Thank you," Tim says, very sincerely, to both of them, as they get ready to head out.

"She was so wound up, we just couldn't get her calmed down," Abby adds.

Ed smiles. "They call them terrible twos for a reason. Angelo, Jeannie's dad, did the same thing for me when Amy was born. Everything was upside down. Jeannie was still in the hospital. And it was the first time I had Breena all on my own, and I managed to set fire to dinner. Just about ripping my hair out by bedtime, and when she realized that Jeannie wasn't coming home, she completely flipped out."

"How are things going?" Abby asks, and it's clear that by things she means not only the delivery, but Jimmy and Breena's mental health, too.

"Very well, though we want to get back quickly. She was at six centimeters when we left and the anesthesiologist was due in soon. With any luck they'll both get some rest, and then Anna will make her grand debut," Ducky replies.

"Okay." Abby hugs both Ducky and Ed. "You both give them some hugs from me."

Ed looks surprised by the hug, but Ducky smiles and says, "Certainly, Abigail."

There's the last hard push, the feeling of intense, focused effort, everything in Breena's world narrowing down to one goal, pressure, lots and lots of pressure, and then release followed by tiny, high-pitched wailing.

They'd already talked to Jun about this, she'd overseen Molly and Jon's delivery and understood exactly how fragile this moment was, how much both of them needed to touch, see, hear, but mostly feel their child, alive and whole and precious and real as soon as they could.

So, before Anna is cleaned up, bare seconds after the cord was cut, she is lying, wet, gooey with vernix and a little blood, crying, tiny body vibrating with indignation and shock at her new surroundings, on Breena's chest.

And they are both holding her, kissing her, crying, laughing some, awash in so many emotions they'd have had a difficult time sorting them out.

She's here, and real, and healthy and whole. Her eyes are open, squinting at them, mouth open, wailing, breathing tiny puffs of air against Breena's chest, pink hands clenched, little brown curls smeary with birth fluids.

After a few more seconds, she calms down, seems to get the lay of the land so to speak, maybe she hears Breena's heartbeat and recognizes it, maybe the sound of Jimmy's voice is familiar (though, not distorted by a watery background). But for whatever reason she stops crying, (though her parents don't) while Breena holds her in her arms, and Jimmy has one arm around Breena, his head pressed to her shoulder, looking close at his daughter, his hand on the back of her somewhat pointy head.

They touch ears, lips, and chin, stroke her face, petting her skin and hair, kissing fingers and toes, marveling at her finally being here, reveling in each breath she takes.

Once the placenta is delivered and Breena's all stitched up, their pediatrician gently takes Anna from them, and Jimmy follows, keeping her in view as they clean her up, weigh her (six pounds twelve ounces) measure her (seventeen inches) print her feet, put the tags on her, along with a diaper, onesie, hat, and then swaddle her into a tiny bundle and hand her back to Jimmy.

He carries her to his wife, and snuggles up as close to her as he can, while she gets Anna settled on her breast to nurse.

And for the first time since the pregnancy test turned positive, Breena and Jimmy Palmer felt all traces of fear drain away.

Between being a field agent and rule number three, Tim always has his phone nearby, and it's always on.

He also, because of these things, cannot sleep through a text or it ringing.

Which means he wakes up shortly after one, as his phone buzzes, and sees: Anna Victoria Palmer. 12/7/15 11:47 PM Six pounds, twelve ounces, seventeen inches long. Mama and baby are fine! Along with a picture of a tiny, pink newborn, one eye peering curiously at the world, swaddled in the traditional white hospital blanket with the pink and blue stripes, snuggled in Breena's arms.

Abby pokes her head up, seeing him standing next to his dresser looking at his phone.


He's grinning. "Oh yeah!" Then he takes the phone over, and shows it to Abby.

"Oh, she's beautiful."

"I was thinking that."

It's not the same.

Can't be, because he's not the same man, and Breena's not the same woman, not anymore, and it's not Jon, but the feel of it, the fantasy, is still there. Tempered, morphed by time and grief and life and now, joy.

So, it's not the same. But that doesn't mean it isn't good. Doesn't mean his eyes don't tear up, this time from joy, as Tim and Abby, Molly and Kelly come in, and Tim sets Molly on the bed, where he's sitting next to Breena, who has Anna in her arms, and he finally gets to say, "Molly, this is your little sister."

She creeps closer, and he picks her up, holding her, partially just to touch her, to have real, physical proof of all of his girls, partially because she's not quite two and he doesn't want her accidentally shoving or smushing Anna. And cuddled in his arms, her hand extends, gently, and she touches Anna's face, puzzled look on hers.


"This is your baby sister, Anna." Breena says.

Molly's confused, she looks back to Kelly. "Baby?"

"They're both babies," Abby says, having kissed Breena and Jimmy hello.

"My baby!" Though it's clear from how she's looking from Anna to Kelly she means both of them.

Tim nods solemnly, leaning down to kiss Breena, and give Jimmy a hug. "Your babies."

Molly grins, a sort of well, all right then, as long as we've got that sorted, this is all good, expression on her face.

Jimmy and Breena see it. They look from Molly to Anna, who's staring at her big sister with the somewhat standard look of newborn confusion, back to Molly, who's leaning in to kiss (slobber on, she doesn't quite have the kissing thing down yet) her baby sister. They look at each other, each holding a baby girl, and laugh.