Monday, February 23, 2015

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 414: With the Flow

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

Chapter 414: With the Flow

"There's absolutely no shot of me getting you to take that thing off, is there?" Penny asks Ducky as they head to American University's chapter of No Illegal Humans.
Ducky touches his bowtie, his red, elephant-bedecked bowtie, knowing immediately what the offending garment is.
"My dear, if they cannot stand this level of mild provocation, how are they possibly going to work with Jethro?"
Penny inclines her head, that's a point. And she did get him to take the American Flag pin off his suit, so that was saying something. She sighs. Ducky has been a welcome and charming companion for all of her interactions with the adult, science activities on campus. She is, however, somewhat wary of bringing what is very obviously a cis-het-white-male-oppressor into the younger, political side of things.
But, wary or not, they're going.

"Shall I be Dr. Langston or Mallard?" Ducky asks as they stroll across the campus.
Penny smiles at that and then shakes her head. "If you're Langston, they'll assume I took your last name, and that loses both of us points."
"Mallard-Langston has a ring to it, don't you think? And if I've got the hyphenated name…"
Penny smiles. She'll be amused to see how the twenty-something activists will parse that. "Sure, Dr. Mallard-Langston. Though Ducky will probably work well, too. Most of these kids go by first name only."
Ducky nods.

It's a pleasant group. More welcoming, especially toward Ducky, than Penny was expecting, but… It's boring. She supposes there's a possibility that they are keeping things tame because she and Ducky are new to the group, and old in years, and thus presumed to be conservative about law breaking and whatnot, but…
It's a letter writing campaign.
Apparently one of the kids, a poly-sci major has been working on a dissertation on maximizing political responsiveness while minimizing representation. (He's trying to prove that Congress and the Senate should be one body of 1,425 representatives. In other circumstances, both Penny and Ducky would find his research interesting.) However, in his number crunching, he's come up with a formula for exactly how likely a given politician is to sway an opinion based on how many letters he gets, pro or con, from registered voters in his district.
He's got numbers on how much more valuable physical mail is over emails, let alone petitions. Apparently physical mail indicates an older person. Older, registered voters are much more likely to vote than young people… So, they've got paper, envelopes, stamps, pens, and lists of names of registered voters they're going to pretend to be, from districts all over the country. Then over the next week, different members of the group are going on road trips to mail the letters from the right Post Offices.
In that Penny and Ducky have "grown-up" or "classical" handwriting ("Old" is the word the kids are trying not to use. Legible cursive would be the most descriptive term for it.) they're actually quite popular with this group.
Some of them are copying a few of Ducky's letters verbatim because his writing is clear, attractive, and does not sound like it was written by a twenty-two-year-old.
As they head off, Ducky says to Penny, "Do you suppose I should have mentioned that if you do write an actual letter to your Congressman, he will send one back, and a large number of very surprised people will likely be calling their Congressmen soon?"
She laughs at that. "They'll figure it out. Coffee?"
Once they're seated in a small café on campus, Ducky sends a text to Jethro. Meeting accomplished.
A few minutes later, as Penny comes back with a raspberry Italian soda for herself, a cup of iced-coffee for Ducky, a mug of black coffee for Jethro, and a plate of cookies for all three of them, he gets back. Just dropped Tim off. Over in a few minutes.

"And how is Timothy?" Ducky asks as Jethro sits down. He's always a bit on edge when Duck or Penny picks the place. Ducky because he usually goes for spots that are way too damn fancy, and Penny because… because she picks places like here, where everything just feels... off.
He can't pronounce half the drinks, and all of the food is organic, fair trade, vegan, granola and sprout-oriented stuff that he probably would like if Breena was serving it, but his Marine soul is rebelling against it here. The tables are tiny, almost afterthoughts, the seats are all fluffy, the art is… eclectic, that's the nice word, right? Ugly as sin and clashes with everything is the less polite version, and the music annoys him on principal alone.
Penny's grinning at him, enjoying this way too much.
At least the coffee is good.
"Doing okay, Duck. My truck's got less metal in it than his arm." Every time they look at the scans his knee aches in sympathy and his stomach clenches. "Doc says spring before he gets full use of his hand back. But he's down to just a cast on his wrist and fingers, and they're starting up on getting his shoulder moving again. That's good, right?"
"Yes it is."
Gibbs takes a sip of his coffee, and for as much of the vibe of this place annoys him, he's going to have to buy a bag of whatever this is, because it is tasty. He glares at Penny again and she smirks, very pleased with herself. Gibbs rolls his eyes, he's seen that look on Tim, too.
"How'd your meeting go?"
"We impersonated members of different congressional districts and wrote letters," Ducky says dryly.
Gibbs shakes his head. "Mail fraud? You guys really know how to skirt the edge, don't you?"
"You know us dangerous radicals, right Jethro?" Penny adds.
"We impressed a cadre of children by having functional cursive skills and a command of basic written English." If Ducky's delivery was dry before, he's verging on Saharan now.
"No dice, then?"
Penny shrugs. "One of the grad students looked… I don't know. I got the sense he may have been looking for more, too."
Ducky nods. "It's only a feeling. And more may be anything from protesting in the streets to doing something useful. I have no idea if he may have any deeper connections."
"Just a feeling of restlessness."
"Cop?" Gibbs asks.
"No." Ducky shakes his head definitively as he takes a drink of his own coffee. "I'm sure I would have made him if he'd been a cop. Not that sort of restlessness."
Gibbs nods, undercover cops usually have a sort of feel to them. He can usually pick them up pretty easily. "Mosque on Thursday?"
Penny nods. "Yes. I'm running a talk on how to register to vote. Some of the ladies are newly citizens and have never lived anywhere they've been able to vote. Some of them were born here, but their husbands/fathers/brothers are not enthusiastic about them voting. The Imam is though, and was happy to let me grab one of the side rooms for a quick how to register and how to vote—"
"How?" Jethro's got an eyebrow up.
"The literal mechanism. How the machine works."
He holds his hands up. "Just pokin' ya."
"Uh huh." She's giving him the smartass look.
Gibbs grins back. "Semper's all set. Got her registered yesterday. She's water legal now. How about your end?"
"As of Wednesday we are the registered officers of Sojourner Inc," Ducky replies.
"Sojourner?" Gibbs asks.
"Penny thought there was a certain eloquence to naming the company after a woman who led others through dangerous lands to set them free."
"That's also the name of the boat," Penny says. "Paperwork for that should be done by Monday."
Gibbs nods. "I'll get her set to carry either registration as needed."
Ducky fiddles with his glass. "So, as of now, all we are waiting for is the proverbial damsel in distress?"
Penny laughs. "It would appear so." She takes a sip of her drink. "Were you serious about having me come along?"
"If you wanted to. I'd think being stuck on a tiny boat with a man you don't know, and a dog, would be unsettling for a lot of these girls. I'd think we'd want them looking and acting as… western… as possible when we get in sight of land, round here, this time of year, that's shorts and t-shirts and pony tails, and… And compared to Pakistan or Afghanistan or where ever, that'll be hard enough, with just me for company… Don't want them feeling… abused by it, ya know?"
"It will be easier to be the kindly old grandfather if there is a grandmother around, as opposed to being the dirty, old letch?" Ducky adds.
Gibbs nods. "Yeah." He fiddles with his cup. "Been thinking about that some. Trying to figure out how to keep 'em covered enough so it's not too uncomfortable, but western enough so I can sail 'em on past without getting a second look. Long t-shirt, those flannel PJ pants Abby likes, bandanna or something like that for the hair…"
"Let's actually meet the girl before we get planning, Jethro. For all you know, she'll be happy to hop into whatever makes it easiest for her to get into the country."
"Yeah. I can hope, right?"
"We can hope."
"I know we're all gathering at Abby's house for dinner tonight, anything to fill your time between now and then?" Ducky asks.
"Heading over to the house for a bit. Got some errands to run." Gibbs's phone buzzes. He pulls it out and sees it's a text from Ziva to him and Abby.
"Case is still hot. No Tony or Ziva tonight."
Penny squeezes his hand as he says that. "Missing it?"
He nods. "Yeah. Tim's all fired up, tech stuff coming out at a million words a minute. Abby's guys are finding trace in places we didn't use to know to look for trace. Jimmy's done on this one, unless Tony gets custody of the bodies, and he doesn't think he will. Tony's running a case with four other agencies over three continents. I see what they're doing with it, and yeah, I miss it, a lot."
Ducky smiles at him. "While Jimmy was in California, and I was back, overseeing Dr. Allan, that felt remarkably useful, in a way I hadn't for months and am afraid I'm not going to, again."
Gibbs nods. "Yeah. One of these day's a ghost'll pop up and they'll call me back in, but… Yeah, I miss it."
They both take sips of their drinks, and Penny watches them, wishing she could help fill the hole careers that were entire lives left in their wake.
"One day at a time."
Gibbs takes another drink. "Yep." Then he stands up. "Gotta get moving if I'm going to be at Tim and Abby's by seven. See you there."

He makes it to the house in less than an hour. Given traffic and where the coffee shop was (wrong side of DC) he made epic time.
There's really not much he needs to do here, today. There are things he can do. More siding needs to go up. He could start arranging piles of shingles around the place so once they're up on the roof they're easily located. He could start ripping out drywall.
But he's not.
He heads over to the boathouse and opens the doors, and then scrambles up Semper's side and into the cabin. He supposes there should be more hoopla for a maiden voyage, but he also likes the idea of the first time out being just the two of them.
He gets her engine going, and pulls her out. Once he's free of the boathouse, he shuts it off, and begins to set his sails. Won't be out too long, but he wants some time with her.
Jimmy's not nearly as joking as it could have been comment about the last time he did this wasn't dead on, but it wasn't as far off as he wishes it was. It's been twenty-five years since he was on a sailboat. But he did do it way more than once.
But the last time he was on one, in the water, it was a rented boat, his girls were with him, they were on the Pacific Ocean, and it was a balmy winter day.
So, right now, beyond the gentle sensation of moving water and the feel of the ropes under his hands as he goes about catching the breeze, this is basically nothing like the last time he did it.
He can see them, both sitting on the rail of that boat, watching him, talking, laughing.
"Do you like it?" He wishes Shannon would answer, but he knows, in a way he didn't before, that he's talking to himself, just getting the ideas out. And he also knows, as he feels the tug of the wind catching sail, that he's not just talking about Semper. "I hope you do."
He nudges her over a bit, heading into the current. "I think you'd like Abbi. Feels weird to say that. Would have liked you to have met her." He shakes his head at that, too. "Okay, that feels even weirder." Which doesn't mean it isn't true. He remembers Penny saying that Ducky and Nelson would have gotten along. Maybe he'll talk with her about this when they get on the water together.
"Don't know what you would have said about John, or training Jimmy. Wonder if that's the sort of thing we wouldn't have talked about. I would have done it, and you would have known, and just sort of, given me that look, when I'd head out, the one that said it was okay." He smiles at that memory. He had more than a few missions where he couldn't say what he was doing, but she'd always nod at him when he left, tell him to be careful.
"I'm being careful." He stares into the blue sky above, feeling the wind on his face. "And I'm filling up the hours, some more useful than others. And there are a lot of things I'd like to say to you, share with you, but… but not getting to say them doesn't hurt so bad anymore."
He tacks starboard, seeing how she handles. Semper swings easy and responsive through the turn. Gibbs nods.
"She's sweet and solid, got a good feel to her, and I want to do good things with her. Make a difference.
"Maybe get the Palmers out here on Sunday. Not sure if Breena wants Molly on here, though. She's a little too happy to hop into the water first shot she gets. Might decide to try that cannonball trick off the side." Gibbs laughs at that idea. "Gotta get some little life vests." He realizes he's not wearing one. "Get some big ones, too.
He tacks again, aft this time, and Semper's just as sweet in the other direction. "Kind of wish I could get Tim on here. Penny wonders how much of him getting seasick is actually about boats. You remember that movie you made me watch, stupid comedy thing, with the guy who drew comics about cute and fluffy bunnies and didn't like boats… Kind of wonder how far a good experience on a boat would go to helping with all of this." He takes a sip of the coffee in his thermos. "Probably not far enough. Don't think I can get him on one voluntarily. Not unless it's a crime scene, and these days…" Gibbs shakes his head. "Don't think he's ever getting back on a ship. Not if he can help it." Thinking of Tim makes him think of Sean.
"Got our first boy." He smiles at that. "Yeah, I know. Still makes me smile. Wondering if Ziva's got one in the works. Could be Tony's just making sure Bishop gets good experience. That'd make sense. I'd do that. Ziva knows field work better than any of them; she doesn't need practice. But, if you're going abroad, usually you take the person who speaks the languages, right?
"She says the case is still hot, won't be at Shabbos tonight. Not sure what can be that hot. Tony's not getting back until morning. Manhunt's been handed off. They both tell me about how cases now just go on and on. All the intel Tim's getting will take weeks to go through, not like burning the midnight oil will help. But if she's tired, or feeling off, or doesn't want all of us immediately noticing when she skips the wine… That'd make sense." Gibbs grins. "Wonder if Tony knows, yet." Then he laughs, imagining telling Tony his first child is on the way. "That'll be fun."
He ties off the sail, happy with the direction they're going, and sits, comfortably, on the rail. "Or maybe I've got grandbabies on the brain."
His eyes scan the banks, watching what looks like unbroken miles of trees passing by. Of all the places and ways he could have ended up, this one seems pretty good. "You remember, back in the diner, telling me I couldn't have both? Couldn't have you and NCIS. I wanted both. Still do. But… I'm okay with what I got."


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