The week after the Mallard-Palmers left found the McGee household feeling a bit dispirited and then Tim and Dee realized they'd only planned through their visit. Grama Liz would visit in April and of course the DiNozzos were still there but now the family had to reach all the way back to November to figure out what had been their routine. And that was tough to do as they'd moved since then.
After kicking around a few ideas to cheer themselves up, they decided to take the kids into San Diego on Saturday, a week after the Mallard-Palmers' departure, to ride the trolley and explore Old Town, which they hadn't done yet. Other than that, they decided they needed to stay home. Although the kitchen was cleaned after every meal and the house and garden needed attention, they hadn't yet re-established the routine they'd had at the condo or in Virginia.
They'd moved, unpacked, had Christmas, New Years, kept going through January, then had more visitors and here they were. They had a beautiful house, with a pool and a backyard built to play in, lovely gardens, their transplanted rose bushes were doing very well and a beach less than 3 minutes' drive. They'd maybe plan one weekend away a month but as Tim said, "We're here to live, we don't have to hurry and see everything in any particular timeframe."
Lu suggested they revisit their plan to visit the Grand Canyon during cooler weather, perhaps March and they liked that. Tony pouted as he and Tali were leaving at the end of February, heading to Florida to see their friend Francine. Tim shook his head, "Then we'll go again next time you're here, Tony. That's what I meant, we're not going anywhere, not moving again." They chuckled when Dee added, "Ever!"
While Tony and Tali started packing up their lives in Playa Vieja, the rest of the household started quietly planning their trek to the Grand Canyon. In the meantime, Charlie drove up to say goodbye to the DiNozzos. He'd been to the Grand Canyon many times and offered to meet his family there, be their tour guide. He even knew which lodgings had the best accessibility for Dee and activities for the kids. He stayed for a week after the DiNozzos' departure, knowing his family, particularly his son-in-law, was upset with their leaving.
It was hard on both families and in the end, Charlie drove Tony and Tali to the airport as Tony said he wouldn't be able to leave if he had to say goodbye there. Charlie did them proud, hugging Tony and Tali, giving them a photo album full of photos from their visit and promising that he, too, would keep in touch. Before they left for the airport, he'd also had a serious talk with Tony about moving home, feeling he and Tali would be safer here than in Europe.
Tony admitted they'd moved to Paris in the first place because it was where Ziva and he had connected and if she was still alive, she'd look there for them. However, now he worried more about her finding them and involving them in one of her missions or schemes or whatever she was up to. He appreciated Charlie's concern, it echoed much of what Tim, Dee and Lu said.
While he'd been fine living in Europe, enjoying the adventure, coming home like this had been an eye opener. He hadn't realized how homesick he was. They could live out here, close to Tim and Dee, Lu, Rob and the kids. They'd be a permanent part of the family, not just when they visited. He knew that wasn't quite right but as much as he treasured their Skype calls, he loved being here with his brother and the family. Tali could go to a brick and mortar school, which he knew she'd love, have kids to play with, be friends with. And he and Tali would be nearby when Gibbs reappeared.
The day their DiNozzos left, Lu and her family spent that day on the beach, deciding they could mope around there just as well as at home. When Charlie returned, he joined them and the four adults talked about Tony moving here on and off the rest of the day, except when the kids were around.
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While the weather wasn't quite as balmy in the hills above Malibu as it was in Playa Vieja, it was still considerably warmer in late winter, early spring than DC. Although, just as in the hills of Virginia, the wind here could chill your bones. Jethro hadn't been too uncomfortable, he'd brought his winter clothes, including a knit cap and wore that and sometimes a warm scarf to keep his head warm when the wind kicked up.
Today he sat on the corral fence, thinking. He'd been walking around for a couple of days, deep in thought and now he was nearly done thinking. He'd gone through a mental checklist, something he'd learned to do here, and after going back through it twice more, he left the fence to find Gerry.
He found him in what Jethro still thought of as the mess hall, relaxing with a cup of tea. Jethro grabbed a mug and a couple of teabags of his favorite herbal tea. After pouring boiling water over the tea bags, he covered the mug with a plate to keep it hot while the tea steeped and went to join his mentor.
Gerry smiled at him, "You ready?"
That surprised Gibbs but he nodded, "To talk, yes. Need your opinion."
Jethro frowned, "You don't know…or do you?"
"I'm jumping ahead, sorry. Tell me."
"I want to go home. I feel whole," he smiled, "I feel better than I have since my mom got sick."
"Your first trauma."
"Yes. I feel I know myself a lot better and I know that I'm stronger, physically, mentally and emotionally, than I was when I got here last June. I let myself cry, mourn, be angry, resentful and I also let myself relax, be happy, friendly, funny, have fun, playful, thankful, full of joy, the whole gamut of emotions. I like myself now, who I am. You taught me how to deal with the guilt, the fear, the anger, the anxiety, the frustration with myself and everyone around me and best of all, how to let go.
"I still get mad and frustrated, you know that, but I've learned to either do something about it or let it go. I sleep all night, I don't need coffee to keep me awake or booze to put me to sleep or to mask the pain, the anxiety. When I first started feeling better, I had to give myself permission to relax, to be happy. Now I don't have to think about it, I just am. And I have tools to handle the bad times, asking for help, offering to help, letting myself be sad, mad, or frustrated without letting it get away from me. Gerry, I want to go home."
"I agree, Jethro. You're ready."
Jethro's mouth dropped open and he sat there, absorbing Gerry's approval. He'd thought he'd have to undergo some sort of test but Gerry had already agreed. He'd been here so long he almost couldn't imagine leaving and now his mentor was saying yes, he could leave, he was ready. His lips curled up into a smile, "Wow, don't tell anyone I said this, but this is trippy!"
Gerry laughed so hard he had to be pounded on the back. "Trippy? Gunnery Sergeant Leroy Jethro Gibbs, I'm astounded! You're a closet hippie!"
"No, but I am a fan of some of that era's rock groups. Wow, what a long strange trip it's been."
"That's true enough, even if Jerry Garcia's been gone for 25 years now."
Jethro nodded, then huffed, "Fortunately, the music lives on. So, how does this work? Do I pack up and hike down to town?"
"You could take one of the horses..." Gerry chuckled, "Sorry, I guess I'm feeling a little giddy because I'm so happy for you. I'll take you to wherever your truck is stored. Probably want to call ahead so it's ready for you, I imagine they took the wheels off and disconnected the battery."
"Right. Uh, that's it then?"
"Pretty much, except to let you know that you're welcome back anytime you feel like you need a 'tune-up'. And that we will all miss you here. Don't know what Champ is going to do without you riding him nearly every day, taking care of him. He's probably forgotten there's anyone else here! A lot of us are going to have to start doing physical chores again, you've pretty much been doing them the past few months. We will miss you, Jethro Gibbs. So, tell me what you see happening, what's your plan?"
"Call about the truck and see when it'll be ready. It's 0900 now so I hope it will be today which is Tuesday, March 16th. I'll finish packing," he laughed, "I started last night. Oh and I need to take all the things I've made for the kids. That should all fit behind the bench seat of my truck. I'll need my cell phone back, need to charge it up."
He stopped talking and watched as Gerry dug something out of his pocket and laid it on the table. "There you go. I charged it overnight. And here's a charger for your truck. Don't forget the footlocker is yours."
Jethro shook his head with a smile, "Thanks, I did! You're way ahead of me. Ok, checking off the cell phone and charge. I'll call Fornell to get Tim's address and let him know I've left the camp."
Gerry smiled and made a 'give it to me' gesture with his hand, pointing to Jethro's pocket. "Need your paper with the addresses and phone numbers, Tim's and Tony's."
"Yeah." He took it out of his shirt pocket, carefully unfolding it. It had been folded, refolded and handled so many times it was a little hard to read. Shaking his head, Gerry handed him a piece of paper. "Yours is too crumpled up. Take this, it has Tim's address. It's the last one, they've moved a couple of times but not because of trouble. Tobias said they rented an accessible condo for several weeks while they waited for a foreclosed house to be available or something like that. Anyway, that's the address, the one on Laurel Ave."
"Laurel Avenue." Jethro smiled, "Gerry, my house in Alexandria is on E. Laurel." Still smiling, he let his tears roll right down his face.
Gerry grinned, "Too bad you don't believe in coincidences! Now, on the back of the paper I gave you are the directions for getting there from Malibu. If you get started before 1400, then take the first route, from Malibu, to Santa Monica and then I-5 South to San Diego and then whatever exit it says there for Playa Vieja.
"If it's after 1430 or later when you get started, you might as well take the 1, the Pacific Coast Highway down and enjoy the ride. Beats sitting in traffic and you'll get to Tim's about the same time as you would crawling along on the 5. The directions for getting to the house from the 1 are on there too. Any questions?"
"No and thank you for this! Mind if I make my call now?"
"Not at all."
Smiling, Jethro turned the paper over again, finding the phone number for the moving and storage company that had his truck. Gerry told him to dial the area code even though the camp was in the same area code and Jethro nodded.
When someone answered, Jethro smiled, "Hello, my name is Leroy Jethro Gibbs and I have a pickup truck stored with you. It's been there since last June and I'd like to pick it up as soon as possible."
"Certainly, Mr. Gibbs, may I have the plate number, please?"
"It's a Virginia plate," he rattled off the numbers, pausing and then saying, "It also has tags from the Washington, DC Navy Yard on it."
"So it does. All right, this has been in long term storage so we'll reinstall the battery and charge it, put the wheels back on, air in the tires, check the engine, do an oil change and a test drive and…would you like us to fill it up? The paperwork says you've got a little less than half a tank. It'll be ready by 1:30, does that work for you?"
"Yes, as long as I'm on the road before 2:00. And yeah, that'd be great if you'd fill the tank."
"Of course, don't want to get into the commute traffic if you don't have to! Your account is current, we'll credit your bank account for the rest of the month. Your paperwork is in good shape, we just need to put the truck back together and give you the keys."
"That's great, see you at 1:30 then."
"If you get into town before then, give us a call. We might be done earlier. I'm short a guy right now but he's expected in by 11. If he gets here when he thought he would, there's a chance we'd be done an hour earlier."
"All right, I'll do that, thanks."
He disconnected, looking at Gerry. "Holy shit, I'm doing this!"
That set Gerry off again and he was still laughing when Jethro washed and dried his mug and headed for his quarters to finish packing. A few minutes later, he took a break, sitting on his bed. He forgot to ask how long it would take to drive from Malibu to Playa Vieja. Taking out his new paper, he looked and smiled, Gerry had included it with the directions.
He was ready by 10:30 and Gerry grinned, "Come on, if we have to wait, we may as well do it down there."
"I'm buying lunch."
The two of them quickly loaded one of the camp trucks and then Jethro had to use some of his newly learned thoughts and actions as seemingly every single person at the camp came by to shake his hand and say goodbye. Letting his frustration go, he smiled happily. "Thanks for everything, it's been awful, wonderful, horrible and life-saving to live here these past 10 months. Feels like longer than that. Take care!"
He hopped into the passenger seat of the truck, just as the cook came running out, "Gibbs, Gibbs, take this, please!"
It was his raspberry tea. The cook was a tea aficionado and wanted this herbal…thing out of his kitchen! With a laugh, Jethro took it, "Thanks for allowing it to sit in your pantry, Cookie!"
He got an eye roll for that and they drove off. Both men were quiet until they reached the main road and Gibbs huffed, "Can't believe it's only been 10 months, feels like a couple of years."
"I imagine it does. In 10 months, you've been through intense counseling, emotional and physical detoxing. If you'd done that while you were still working, it would have taken at least two years."
Gibbs smiled as he had his first glimpse of the ocean, remembering how glad he'd been to see it on their campout. It took them 45 minutes to get into town, a bit of a surprise, and he called to check on the truck as soon as they reached the city limits. The same man answered the phone, "Hello again! Your truck is in good shape, we got started on it and then my guy came in on time and he's working on it. It'll be ready by 12:15."
Disconnecting, he said, "12:15" to Gerry.
"Awesome. So now we decide where to eat. As I recall, you like diners."
"I do, yes. You like them?"
"Yes, I'm a big fan. Sit back, relax and I'll take us to the best place in town."
Gibbs watched out the windows. "I don't know much about Malibu except fires and mudslides. And don't a lot of celebrities hang out here?"
"Along the coast, yes. And yes to the fires and mudslides."
First they found the moving and storage company so they'd know where to go when it was time. Then Gerry turned a few corners, finally pulling up alongside a refurbished train car. Parking, they went inside. Gibbs thought the place was a little bigger than Elaine's but not by much. The two men enjoyed their lunch, Jethro telling Gerry the rest of his plan. He would drive to Tim's and then ring the doorbell and wave at one of Tim's security cameras. If no one was home, he'd drive around town, see what it looked like and then go back. Or he might call Tim, he was leaving that open.
After Jethro paid the tab, glad his credit card still worked although he also had cash, it was 11:40. The two men drove to a beach and walked on the sand until noon before returning to the moving and storage company. Jethro smiled when he saw his truck sitting in the parking lot, the ground around it wet. Apparently it had been washed too. He hadn't even thought about how dirty the windows would be!
He was given a checklist of what they'd done to put the truck back together and then handed the keys. He and Gerry quickly moved his footlocker with the kids' gifts, his suitcases and all his tools. The footlocker and his sea bag went behind the bench seat while they managed to find room for the rest under the hard shell of the truck bed. Then, exchanging hugs, Gerry slipped another piece of paper into his hand, patted his face and left.
Without looking at it, Jethro tucked the paper into his chest pocket, put his sun glasses on and started his truck. It sounded great, as smooth as the day he'd driven it off the lot. He took a deep breath as he turned left and then another one. As he drove, he tried to relax as pressure started building inside him.
Using what he'd learned to work towards calm, he was heading for the I-5 south when he saw a sign for the 101 south with another sign below it for I-40 East. He knew that would take him home, across country to his real home, where he surely belonged.
Overwhelmed, he made a distressed noise as he moved into the far right lane, taking the exit for the 101. He needed his house, his home, more time, he couldn't do this, he was terrified that he'd burned his bridges with Tim, that there would be only rejection, no redemption, no happy reunion. He remembered the photos at Christmas, all happy as they'd moved on with their lives. They didn't need him anymore, they'd let him go after he'd pushed them all away, even the babies.
He couldn't deal with that, he'd go home, to Virginia. Then he'd write a letter, see how that went and go from there. Relieved to have at least that much of a plan, Gibbs exited onto the I-15 that would take him south to Barstow and I-40 East. That would take him to North Carolina, where he'd travel US 117 north to Virginia and his home in Alexandria. Anything else was too much, too overwhelming.
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The team had been called out early this morning at 0500. As the location was closer to the McGee home than the office, Tim told his agents to meet him at a designated spot they'd used before, a carpool lot next to the freeway and they'd take his car. A BOLO they'd set up two days ago had netted them their person of interest for a double homicide they'd landed Monday afternoon. However, on their way to the meet, the guy slipped the net and they chased him through what seemed like most of San Diego County's considerable real estate, during commute hours. The California Highway Patrol had been the ones to lose him and weren't about to let him get away a second time.
By 0900 Tim and his team had him in their custody and were in the office by 0945. By 1100, they'd interrogated, busted and Mirandized him, charging him with the murders of two petty officers. He was escorted from the Interrogation room to their lockup.
Then they took a break, re-heating and nearly inhaling the breakfasts Elise had waiting for them, taking one to their prisoner as well. Even though they warned him he'd likely have to wait until dinner for anything to eat, he refused the breakfast. They split the extra between the 5 of them.
The field team gave themselves an extra 10 minutes to relax over their beverages, two coffees, one tea, before starting their reports. An armed transport arrived at 1300 to take the prisoner to the county jail where he'd await his arraignment.
By now, Agents Shah and Davis were accustomed to busting cases within a week or two, rather than months, and were proud of the work they were doing. They'd been fine with Tim's predecessor, Draper, but now they were excited, passionate about their work and grateful to be working with a former member of the agency's top team. And genuinely glad Tim was their team lead.
Tim was both antsy and tired after the early morning start and the chase over hill and dale. He wasn't sure why he was so antsy. He knew they had a strong case with the evidence they had and the man's subsequent confession. He wasn't worried about the case, although he mourned for the murder victims and grieved with their families.
With all that under control, he was still restless for no discernible reason. It was the middle of a busy week, getting their reports done would take the rest of the day and most of tomorrow. The family had a wonderful time at the Grand Canyon this past weekend, he'd taken a half day off Friday and a half day Monday and with the extra time plus Lu and Dee's help driving, none of them had been overly tired when they got home.
As for the rest of this week, he had an online meeting with Joel on Friday but they usually met twice a month and there was nothing to be concerned about there. While Lu would be away Wednesday night and most of Thursday, they were staying home this weekend, something the three adults were looking forward to. Of course, staying home would include at least one visit to the beach and definitely some pool time. The kids were learning to roller skate and Tim thought they could use the garage and driveway, they'd use the cars as a barrier to prevent the kids from skating or tumbling down into the street.
One of his remote agents, Alex King, had recently been promoted to a senior field agent and transferred to an office in the Midwest. Garret Jordan, his remaining remote agent, was now training a probationary agent who would stay in the remote office for her probie year and then transfer out when she'd completed her probationary assignment. Tim agreed with Jordan that he didn't need a second fulltime agent but this way, by having a probie agent, was the best of both worlds. He'd be able to train the newbie and have some help, sending her on her way when she was ready for promotion to a JFA. Tim's thought was to promote one or both of his local field agents around the same time as the probie made JFA and then transfer the new JFA in for his team. He also planned to hire another probie for Jordan to train once this one was promoted.
By 1400, he was hungry again and almost desperate to get out of the office for a few minutes. Volunteering to pick up lunch for his agents, who were also hungry, he left after they called in their order. While they often chose delivery if they were in the middle of a case, today he wanted to enjoy the fresh air on his walk to their favorite deli, about four blocks from the office. Carrying the bag with their food, he was taking his time returning to the office, doing something he thought Ducky might call 'moseying' along when something in his peripheral vision caught his eye.
Turning his head, he saw the back of a pickup truck that looked like his dad's, moving a couple of blocks down the street. Then the truck turned and he took a deep breath, shrugging. There were undoubtedly many late 1980s Ford F-250 trucks with that particular paint job still being driven, especially in California where old vehicles lasted longer in much of the state due to lack of rust, rain, ice, snow and humidity.
He ate in the break room with Cassie and Vijay, letting their conversation flow over him, trying to get that truck out of his mind. Finally, he said, "We started work at 0500 this morning. If we stay till quitting time, the agency will owe us an hour or so of comp time. Or we can call it a day now, call it even and get back to our reports tomorrow when we're not tired. At least I'm tired. I'll be fine handling a callout if we have one but trying to concentrate on reports this afternoon would put me right to sleep."
Shah and Davis laughed, agreeing with him. Letting Southwest know the field team would be offsite for the rest of the day and would respond to any callouts, the three shut down. The administrative staff, Elise and Lily, having started at their regular hours, would leave at their normal times. Tim made sure the front door was locked and the security cameras in back and front were working correctly before they left. "Anything comes up, call me!"
Sending Dee a text that he and his team were off shift unless needed, he headed for home. When he turned onto the cul-de-sac, he sighed in frustration. He'd more than halfway convinced himself that he'd see an old Ford pickup in the driveway. He was a bit surprised at how much it hurt that it wasn't there, he thought he'd been handling his dad's absence fairly well. That didn't mean he didn't miss him!
He left his car out, intending to wash it later as it was covered with dust and dirt from their chase. He was once again thankful that his vehicle, and Dee's, were All Wheel Drive.
Once inside, he changed, taking a quick shower and dressing in clean clothes. His clothes were a little dusty from a brief footrace between their suspect and the team. Yawning, he headed for the kitchen for something to drink. He thought he'd pour a glass of lemonade and then head out to the pool with a book. That should ease him into a nap fairly quickly. Before he got there, the doorbell rang and he looked around for his phone to look at the security feed, rolling his eyes at himself. He'd better hope there weren't any more callouts today, he was definitely not at the top of his game! He'd left his phone in the bedroom. Heading to the front hole, he looked through the spy hole to see the back of a head, a head with silvery gray hair and a 'high and tight' military cut.
Nearly flinging open the door, he stepped back in surprise when the man turned to him, saying, "I have a registered letter for Timothy McGee."
With a sigh, Tim took the pen offered to him, signing for the letter. Shoulders slumped, he took the letter and shuffled back into the house. Tossing the envelope onto a side table, he returned to the kitchen, grabbing his lemonade and wishing it was something stronger.
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When Lu and the kids got home, they were surprised to see the car in the driveway, the kids cheering that Daddy was home already. As they passed it, driving into their slot in the garage, they saw the dirt and dust. Johnny smiled, "We can help Daddy wash it!" Morgan nodded, it was one of their favorite things to do!
Lu chuckled before she said, "Your daddy had to leave for work very early this morning, so he might be resting. Let's be quiet when we walk into the house."
The kids whispered their agreement which made her smile again. The house was empty, although Lu found an empty beer bottle in the kitchen and raised an eyebrow, she'd never known Tim to drink by himself and hoped this wasn't a sign of an especially upsetting case.
The twins and their grandmother quickly changed into their swimsuits, hurrying to the pool. Although the first day of Spring was later that week, the temps were still lower than they would be in a few weeks. Finding Tim sound asleep, they tried to be quiet but he woke anyway and had fun swimming with them. Lu reminded him that she was leaving this afternoon before dinner. Her walking group planned a drive north along the coast this evening to a newly repaired and re-opened path along the cliffs. Tonight was a supermoon and they planned to see it from that path. They'd stay over, walking another trail in the morning before returning home. If all went well, the group hoped to have another trip, next time to Catalina Island, where they'd plan a day hike, with another overnight. Lu was excited about both outings. The only thing that could make it better would be if…well, she tried not to dwell.
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Having had a long nap after work and then gone to bed shortly after the twins, Tim woke very early the next morning, still feeling sad and a bit disgruntled that his fantasy of seeing Dad's truck in the driveway had been an empty one. He lay there for a few minutes before getting up. Dee's side of the bed was empty and he remembered her saying she was working DC hours today, starting her day in her home office. She was already at work and would be done in the early afternoon.
Deciding he needed some fresh air and exercise to chase away his bad mood, he ate a banana before donning his running shorts, shoes and tee shirt, grabbed a ballcap, sent Dee a text in her office, and headed into the side yard to do his stretches. When he was ready he went through the gate to the front of the house, only to see his car and realize he'd forgotten to wash it last night. Shaking his head, he did one final stretch before setting off on his run, thinking about working from home himself today. Especially since it was a paperwork day.
He was finishing his run and reentering the cul-de-sac when he heard a vehicle coming up behind him. Used to having the street to himself in the mornings, he held up a hand and changed course to give the vehicle more room. Continuing to the house, he walked the last few yards, stopping at the bottom of the driveway to do a final stretch and wipe his face. When he ended the stretch and slung the towel over his shoulder, his father stood there in front of him, looking healthy and happy, tears streaming down his face.
Standing there with his mouth open like an idiot, Tim blinked several times before he was convinced this was not another fantasy. He finally moved forward, uttering a barely vocalized 'Dad?' Wrapping his arms around his father, half afraid he was imagining this, he tightened his arms. Hearing a deep sigh, he kissed the side of his father's head, knowing now that this was real, he was really here. "You came to us, you're here! Welcome home, Dad. I've missed you so much, we've missed you so much!" He let out his own happy sigh of relief.
The two men held onto each other, crying and rejoicing at their reunion. Tim smiled as Gibbs' arms tightened around him and felt the kiss to his own head, sweaty as it was. "Tim, son. I've missed you."
Feeling his son's arms tighten around him again, Jethro smiled as he relaxed, knowing he really was home.
As Tim held onto his father, he heard another sigh, this one sounded relieved. "Dad, you're relieved? Did you think you wouldn't find the house or were you afraid you wouldn't be welcome?"
Jethro gave a teary chuckle, "All of the above and more. Timothy, I've spent the last 10 months concentrating on your last words to me, that I'd always be your dad and I'd always be part of your family. Then yesterday I was finally ready to leave the camp. Gerry, my primary counselor, gave me your address and directions on how to get here. He knew coming here was my plan, we worked it out together. He drove me to the storage yard where my truck was and he and I said goodbye. That felt a little scary but I was so excited that I was finally on my way to you. I got in my truck and drove off and…well, I got lost for several hours. I was headed for the I-5 south when I saw the sign for 101 South, I-15 and 1-40 East."
He told him about his sudden and overwhelming need to return home to Virginia. "Drove out to Barstow, got on I-40 East, turned back two hours later and headed for Barstow. Then I took a side road and drove around in circles for another hour or so. Finally pulled off, got a room, ate and slept for several hours, then I felt better and could think.
"I had coming here all planned out. I left Malibu, where my truck was stored, at 1300, I should have been here around 1530. I thought if I got here before anyone was at the house, I'd look around town. But when I drove out of Malibu I started to panic, I was overwhelmed. It hit me like a tsunami. Off and on while I was at the camp, I've been terrified you'd moved on, wouldn't need me anymore, that with all the crap I gave you, pushing you away, I was afraid it was too late. But after I slept and ate, I understood that I was more panicked about leaving the camp, my refuge for nearly a year, than afraid of coming here and seeing you. Then I remembered Gerry giving me a note before I left yesterday and I finally read it this morning. It said it was okay if I didn't make it here the first day, that I might need to let myself adjust and to keep trying. That's all it was, I just needed a few hours to adjust. So here I am."
He stopped for a few minutes as his son had his arms around him again and was comforting him. "Can you listen for a minute?" Finally feeling a nod, Tim continued, "I know we have a ton of things to talk about. I just have to say this first, okay? I knew something was wrong. Yeah, I was hurt but I'm an adult, I knew you loved me and that you knew I loved you. And I certainly know no one is perfect! We sort of limped along but things kept getting worse, you looked like hell, so exhausted and out of it that I finally asked Tobias for help. And I know at some point Vance stepped in. Eventually they let Tony and me know what was going on, what was wrong. Which was what I'd suspected, that it had something to do with Ziva's attack, that had sort of let all your demons loose. Is that anywhere near the truth?"
Jethro nodded, turning his head, still resting on Tim's shoulder, so it was easier to talk. "Yes. I was on the verge of self-combusting from every trauma I've been through since I was a kid. Since my mom took her own life. I've been burying everything so I wouldn't have to deal with it. Except I was, in many ways. To reach a point where I could start healing, I had to examine each of those traumas, examine and deal with them.
"Ziva's arrival and everything that happened while she was there destroyed my protective walls. Clinically speaking, everything that happened while she was there and the aftermath triggered my PTSD which in my case has now been diagnosed as Complex PTSD, I'll explain that later.
"I couldn't cope, couldn't find my way back or figure out how to rebuild what I've always considered my inner armor. I've always been able to fix it, even after Paraguay, or so I thought, and didn't understand why I couldn't do it again. At first it was personal stuff and I believe that was because of Ziva's accusation that I'd abandoned her. I know now that isn't true, I think I knew it then too but I was so overwhelmed I couldn't get to the truth. The only things I could handle were work and escaping to my basement."
Tim grimaced, it was even worse than he'd feared. "How do you feel now? I mean about coming here? Obviously, you've reached a point in dealing with your traumas that they agreed it was a good time to leave."
"I'm here and it feels wonderful, even better than I imagined. Yesterday…as I said, I must have needed some extra time to separate from the camp because I feel fine, excited again today and haven't felt any panic. But how are you, son? You've had so much going on this past year."
Tim huffed, "I'm all right, Dad. I have to tell you a strange thing that happened yesterday." Briefly he told him about seeing the pickup in town that was so similar to his. "Maybe it was a sign from you, maybe I was so tired that I was reading things into ordinary events. When I got home and there wasn't a pickup in the driveway, I was sad and disappointed."
Jethro shook his head, "Strange but we know that strange things happen."
His son nodded, "You said you hurt me. You're right, I was hurt but as I said, I'm an adult. Once we got settled here, I went for some counseling and that helped, cleared my head, let me see past that demon of mine, feeling abandoned, and acknowledge that you were very ill and couldn't help what happened. And that it started with Ziva's return.
"On top of that, that Monday, the last day we were both in the office, Vance said something that stayed in my head, that I'd been doing a good job of managing the team. I was managing Torres and trying to manage Bishop – and you. So it wasn't just you, Dad, I bear some responsibility for that.
"Until my counselor asked, I didn't realize that I'd been pushing you at work. When you didn't seem to mind me managing the team, I started including you in that. Then I wanted you to do something about Bishop and pushed you about it and got frustrated when nothing I had the authority to do made any difference. I felt like my hands were tied. Later, and I'm relieved to say I figured this out on my own, I realized one of the underlying factors in our problems was that I was ready to go out on my own, to have my own team. Not realizing that, subconsciously I tried to take over your team. When you were sort of half in, half out, I started managing but you wouldn't do what I wanted you too, which again frustrated me. It took me a long time to figure that out. It wasn't all you."
His father squeezed the back of his neck affectionately, "At work, maybe not, although I also think Bishop was playing us against each other, just as she played us with Ziva, and I remember being relieved and proud that you were taking care of the team for me. I couldn't do anything about Bishop, not even to have your six, I didn't have the strength, the energy. I wanted to but…at times I felt like I was an observer watching what was going on. That was the safest place to be, then I didn't have to participate, make decisions, risk abandoning or hurting anyone. Although it also made me feel impotent and angry.
"At home, yes, Elf Lord, that was all me. I've regained most of my memories, or I guess should say they're clear to me now and that was me. I'm sorry I was such as ass!"
First taking a second to enjoy the first 'Elf Lord' he'd had since the day of Ziva's return nearly 18 months ago, Tim started to reply when the front door opened and Johnny called out, "Daddy, Mommy's making breakfast and says to come in. Who's that? Poppy? You came home! Mommy, Morgan, Poppy's here!"
Still in his PJs and barefoot, Johnny ran out to the driveway, throwing himself into his grandfather's arms. "Poppy, Poppy, we missed you so much! I'm so glad you're home! Are you all better now?"
Morgan joined them, nearly climbing her Poppy's leg before her daddy plucked her off, depositing her into Poppy's arms. "Poppy, you're home! Daddy, did you find him on your run?"
Tim chuckled, "I did, Angel cake, although he found me first."
The four of them hanging onto each other, they made their way into the house, Dee and Jethro greeting each other with more happy tears, hugs and kisses. Jethro had indeed found his way home.
Eventually, they continued into the kitchen and Jethro joined them for breakfast. As they sat down, Tim cupped his father's face in his hands and took a good look into his eyes. He smiled, "I've never seen your eyes so bright. You're well."
Gibbs spoke softly, although the twins didn't seem to be listening. "I am well, son, in better shape than I've been in since you've known me. Probably the best since my mom died. Took a lot of hard work, felt like my soul was being shredded bit by bit. Everything was difficult, but some things just laid me out, having to deal with them and then learn how to live with them in healthier ways than what I'd been doing. I learned more tools for handling things in life. Tools that don't require coffee, alcohol or even sand paper, although I still enjoy wood working."
Shocked, Tim's eyes widened almost comically, both eyebrows were raised and his voice also went up about half an octave, "You…coffee? You gave up coffee?"
Dad chuckled, "Yes. The doctors restricted me to two cups a day of regular coffee and it wasn't worth it. I've been drinking herbal tea."
Both Tim and Dee took a couple of minutes to absorb that piece of news, which was huge. In some ways, it emphasized how much Gibbs had been through and how much he'd been willing to change.
As they ate, Tim decided that because it was a paperwork day, he'd work from home. His gear was in his car, he'd respond from here if there was a callout. He was about to email the office and Joel when the twins asked to stay home. That meant Tim would now take the day off instead, although he'd still respond if there was a callout. Because to him this had the priority if not the seriousness of a family emergency, his email to Joel and his team explained the short notice, saying that his dad had arrived home unexpectedly this morning after being away on 'special assignment' for the past 10 months. Joel replied, saying that was fine.
Dee decided to continue working from home for the rest of the DC day, rather than drive to the office for the rest of her shift. At least she'd be available for lunch and a few breaks and would be finished before mid-afternoon.
After breakfast, Jethro was showed his room, a suite with a separate, small sitting room and a slider leading to a small patio in the backyard. There were more happy smiles and he hugged and kissed his kids again. "Thank you for not giving up on me!"
Dee shook her head, "Jethro, that was never going to happen. When we made a list of what we needed for our new home, your room was listed with ours."
He smiled, "I had a moving company bring my truck to Southern California and decided to bring a few other things, too. So now you'll have an extra bed because mine is in storage in Malibu along with my bureau, Jack's recliner, all my towels, sheets, blankets, pillows and some kitchen things. I hoped to find another Craftsman, maybe a bungalow or cottage, near you." He smiled at his kids, "Tobias told me I was wrong, that I'd have my own room with you, but I was so muddled, so full of despair, my thoughts and memories were jumbled and vague. Moving some stuff meant moving anything I might need and he helped me with that. I had most of my tools with me at the camp, they have a wood shop, and the rest are in storage with my bed."
Tim wrapped his arms around him again, it felt so good to have him here, "The garage has an extension at the end, a separate room with power, A/C and a workshop. That's yours, your workshop. We have a basement, really a lower level, but it's…well, you'll see. Do you want to start unloading or tour the house?"
"How about unloading? Then I can relax for the tour. This place is a lot bigger than the Virginia house!"
Dee and Tim laughed and then Dee explained, "We looked at several accessible houses but they were all too small or too weird and none of the lots were big enough for renovation. Most of them barely had what we would call a backyard. Then this place came up on the listings as a foreclosure. In the meantime, we toured a condominium that would do until we found a house, so we rented that and waited for this place to be available. We stayed in the condo until all the repairs and renovations were completed. We only moved in the first part of December, after Thanksgiving."
"Ouch, three moves, bet that wasn't fun!"
They explained the extended storage and housing allowance which meant the company who'd moved their things from Virginia to California also moved selected items to the condo and then moved those things again, along with the rest of the their belongings, to the house.
Tim shook his head, "I don't ever want to move again, but if we do, we're hiring movers."
As they'd been talking, the men started moving things from the pickup to Jethro's room. When they took out a plastic bag full of sheets and towels, Dee grinned, "Good, something I can carry!"
With the truck holding mostly suitcases and bags of clothing and soft goods, it didn't take long to unload. Dee insisted on washing all the sheets and towels after they'd been locked up in the truck for so many months. With that thought, Jethro decided to wash all the clothes that had been in there, too, although he would do them, there was no need for Dee or Tim to do his laundry!
The clothes in his sea bag that he'd had at the camp were all clean and Tim helped put those away. As he hung a shirt, he looked at his dad, "Did you leave the Challenger at Fornell's?"
"Yeah, I did, in his garage."
Tim grinned, "I believe it went for a ride without you. It's now in long-term storage at Joe and Freddie's place. Last summer they bought property with an office, a combination garage and warehouse, there's even living quarters in it. Then for a few weeks Tobias was strongly considering putting his place up for sale. He contacted Joe, that's how that happened, they moved your car and a bunch of stuff over there. In the meantime, he decided to stay put until Em finishes college."
Jethro shook his head, "I haven't talked to him yet. But Gerry probably let him know I was finally ready. As far as I know, he was their only contact while I was there and that was because he'd been through it." He smiled, "Do you know about the photos?"
Tim shook his head and Jethro told him about the envelope of photos he'd received at Christmas. Tim sat down heavily on the bed, more tears streaming down his face, finally saying, "Did they come from Fornell?"
"Yes, although he may have gathered them from various sources."
"We asked them to join us for Christmas but he and Em were spending it with his father in Florida. He asked for photos, which I thought was nice."
Jethro sat next to him, pulling his face down and kissing him on the forehead. "There were photos of you, Dee, the kids, Lu, Liz, Charlie, at the beach, at a pool, in a living room, the twins' birthday party and a very crowded dining room."
Tim laughed, "That must have been Thanksgiving at the condo and Liz either when she visited in August or when she was here for Hanukkah. By Christmas, we were here and even more crowded. Tony and Tali were here, Rob surprised me by showing up on my birthday, he's living and working in San Diego and the Baltimore brothers were also here for Christmas The only ones missing were you, Geordie and Sarah. She has a British boyfriend and hasn't visited yet."
"Where did you put everyone?"
Tim grinned, "Ah, time for your tour!"
As they walked through the house, Tim explained, "You, Lu, Liz and Charlie have your own rooms." He grinned, "Originally, we thought Charlie would just need a sofabed, that he wouldn't be here for long as it's a fairly short drive to and from his place. But then he was here for several weeks and we gave him Liz's suite. As I said, she came for Hanukkah and isn't coming back until next month."
Dad nodded, "Makes sense. She's afraid to travel in the winter and it's only March, still winter in Chicago."
That raised eyebrows and he chuckled, "You didn't know that? She told me she's been afraid to fly during the winter ever since the Air Florida flight crashed into the Potomac back in the 80s and many people died. And then the flight that the pilot, Sully, saved, added to her phobia, even though he saved everyone."
Tim opened his mouth before nodding, "We've always gone to her place for Hanukkah and Christmas. Hadn't wondered about why."
Moving through the hallway, Dad smiled at the master bedroom, "Great size!"
"Yes, we had some work done on it, and Dee's got a separate closet for her shoes. Worked out well."
Tim pointed out Charlie's room. "It doesn't have the sitting area but it does have its own bathroom. As I said, we didn't think he'd be here often as it's only a few hours' drive to his place but he likes to come and stay for a few weeks at a time. He stayed at the residential hotel until we moved into the condo and then after helping us move he went home for a few weeks. He drove up again at Halloween and stayed to help us move again in December, so he was here for the birthdays and Thanksgiving. He went home again after we moved in here, saying it was finally cooler at his place, although Liz flew in from Chicago the same day. He returned the day she left."
He shook his head with a laugh, saying, "It's not like they're fooling anyone! He left again after New Year's but he'll be back when the weather heats up. We drove down to the Grand Canyon last weekend and he met us there, played tour guide. That was fun! We thought Liz might spend the winter with us but she came for Hanukkah and then went home and hasn't been back since and now I know why!"
After looking at the twins' room, Dad commenting on the toddler beds. Last time he'd seen them, they were still sleeping in their cribs.
Tim stopped at the next bedroom door. "We won't go in here. Lu went on an overnight with her walking group yesterday . They're walking somewhere else this morning and will be home this afternoon."
"Her walking group?"
"Yes, she joined it the second week we were in California. They walk various trails around the area, starting at 0630, before the heat sets in. This is her first excursion out of the area. She also belongs to a craft group, wait until you see her craft room downstairs!"
"She's here enough to need one and to belong to groups like that?"
Tim hung his head, "I forgot that was a surprise and you wouldn't know about it. Yes, when we told her about my promotion and our transfer, she retired and came with us. She, Dee and the guys put everything together. I didn't know until the day the movers came to pack us up. We'd had a family barbecue the weekend before and said goodbye and then, surprise, there she was! She'd officially retired the day before and on moving day, Barry drove her over in Bill's truck with the things she wanted to bring with her. She planned to take care of the kids fulltime but we talked her out of that. She volunteers at the community garden, too."
"That's great, son!" Inwardly, Jethro was shouting for joy. He managed to ask a reasonable follow up question, "Are you and Dee involved in the community, too?"
"We are, yes, although our spare time is limited. We tend to get involved in events for the kids, like the Halloween festivities in October and a few of the local events at Christmas. But yes, we're happily part of the community. Our relocation agent got us involved our second week in town, while we were living at the residential hotel. While we were in temporary quarters, getting involved and meeting people helped us feel part of the town. We even had a small cocktail party on our hotel patio one night! It's fun, although as I said, neither Dee nor I have much time we can promise to anything."
Tim thought his dad was holding in something and guessed it was something about Malu. Because in the last 10 months, she hadn't mentioned a relationship with his dad, he decided not to ask or say anything now.
"Where's Rob's room?"
"I'll show you in a few minutes, first the common areas." They looked at the kitchen and family room, where they'd already been and Jethro looked at the living room, which he'd seen already. Now he took a closer look, smiling at familiar pieces of furniture, photos and artwork. Then they went back to the hallway to see the laundry room and next to it was a doorway and what Jethro recognized as a stair lift. "You have a basement?"
"Yes, although it's not the traditional basement we're used to. It's really a second level, a lower level, with the main living quarters upstairs. We installed a stair lift so Dee can get down there if she needs to. We found what we believe is a panic room so it's a good thing we have the lift and the kids know about it too. The lift has a battery backup that will kick in automatically if the power is ever cut off. The property is on solar power with a backup generator so we don't worry too much about random power outages."
Walking down, Tim chuckled at Dad's surprise and his comment. "You weren't kidding this isn't a traditional basement!"
"We were told this house had 10 bedrooms and after we saw it the first time, we thought there were 5 on the main level and 5 down here. We think now that the listing said 10 bedrooms because that's how many rooms were set up to sleep in, actually looked like bedrooms. There are 8 bedrooms upstairs. Two or three of them may have been used as something else before, a craft room, a sitting room, a home office or even a walk-in closet. Anyway, down here there originally had a big library like Ducky's, laundry room, game room and a huge storage area."
Briefly he explained the previous owners' renovations to add bedrooms, bathrooms and taking in the homeless without applying for permits for the extra rooms or a license to be a homeless shelter.
Gibbs shook his head, "A worthy cause, if they'd taken the right steps. How long did they get away with it?"
"Over a decade, then the neighborhood started to change and someone complained to the city. Trying to go through retro-permitting, all the maintenance and the long tail of the '07 recession shortly after they retired is what ultimately cost the owners the house."
"Will you tell them that a formerly homeless person and his family bought this place? I bet that would give them a smile."
"We did and had a note back thanking us. We also had an open house before Christmas, introducing the family who was here to our neighbors. So, you know, no one would think we were following in the previous owners' footsteps. Come look at all the rooms."
"So at Christmas, our Baltimore family stayed down here?"
Loving the 'our', Tim nodded, "Yes and they loved it, they had a nearly full kitchen, their own TV and a stackable washer and dryer. Their rooms are along the back there." Tim leaned in, "The panic room is behind that side wall. Notice the paneling? One of them opens. I'm not telling you which one because I know you'll find it!"
With a grin, Gibbs stood and looked at the wall for a few minutes before he pressed the upper right corner of one. Nothing happened and he looked at Tim who chuckled, "Whoever put it in was a leftie."
That worked and he nodded. "How old is the house?"
"It was built in the late 50s. We haven't looked further but I wouldn't be surprised if we found an old fallout shelter underneath there, with stairs or maybe a tunnel with a ladder. I thought you and I could explore."
"Sure, sounds interesting. The Cold War started in the late 40s and lasted until the late 80s, early 90s, although that was Reagan and Gorbachev, things were better between our two countries by then. I was 8 during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and I remember old man Winslow, Chuck's father, building a fallout shelter. The opening was in their side yard, close to the kitchen door. The guy who ran the mine had one too; the opening to his was in his front yard and his wife eventually planted some sort of vine that grew over it. She told my mom that was cheaper than having it removed."
"Your parents didn't build one?"
"I think Dad and Uncle LJ started one underneath our basement, but it was a lot of work, would have been easier to dig in the backyard. Of course, that's hindsight, they may have been thinking we'd be all right in the basement. There was a bomb shelter underneath the school, too, put in during World War II. During my school years, we had drills two or three times a year where we'd have to get down there. Each kid had a buddy so no one would get left behind. We had a boy in our class, Carl, who had had polio and had metal braces on his legs and used what we called 'polio crutches', the ones that fit your forearms, not under your shoulders. He could walk but very slowly. I remember that during the drills, one of the male teachers or some of the older boys would carry him down. When we were older, bigger and stronger we carried him ourselves."
Tim shuddered at the whole idea of bomb shelters and his dad nodded. Back in the lower level's main room, they continued down the hallway with all the bedrooms. With some help, the kids had made signs for each room, stating the occupant's name, and the guys had asked to leave them up. Although Malu didn't know yet, they'd return in June to celebrate a late Mother's Day. Tim smiled to himself, now they could also celebrate Father's Day with their dad!
Telling Dad about the plan, Tim repeated Bill's words, that in April through mid-May, people are panicking to have their new builds or renovations done for late May and June graduation parties, weddings, grandkids arriving after school is out or planning their vacations. And that most people don't start a renovation in June, especially if they have kids at home. Fred and Joe would hand over any emergency plumbing calls to their employees as they had at Christmas They still responded to emergencies but no longer had to personally handle all of them.
Tim added, "Hopefully the worst of the early summer fog here will be gone by then, too. We moved here May 28th and when we went to the beach that weekend, it was overcast and cold. There was a community picnic on that same beach the following Saturday and it was beautiful."
Jethro smiled at that and then tapped the sign on a door that said, "U. Bill's and U. Rob's room, the biggest!"
Tim nodded with a chuckle, "What's left of the storage area is a room on this side of the house, so we extended this room into it, cutting off a few feet. Two Extra-Long California King beds in one room take up more square footage than you'd think! As I said earlier, Rob has moved closer to the hospital. He works crazy shifts so we only see him every two or three weeks."
After taking a peek into a few more of the rooms, Tim showed him the fire exit they'd had built at the end of the hallway. "At the side of the house, behind your workshop in the back of the garage and the gate, there's a bump out with stairs coming from here." Reversing their walk down the hallway, Tim showed him the door to the storage room, which was fairly well hidden.
'Is it full?"
"No, believe it or not. There were a few things left behind that we were able to use, lamps, a couple of the chairs that are in the living room, nightstands, side tables, things like that. We cleaned, stripped and painted some of it, other things we sold or donated. Of the things we kept, I rewired the lamps and Malu made new cushions and recovered the chairs, which really helped. Come on, I'll show you her headquarters!"
"So this place had all kinds of treasures waiting for you, I'll bet the kids loved that!"
Standing in front of Lu's craft room, Tim nodded, "They did and what you'll see next is also one of their favorites, something we, her boys and Sarah put together for Malu. Not her living quarters, her craft room. We had a lot of help with the design, our realtor and her sister designed the craft room at the house they share, we looked online and also asked Lu's friends what they thought she'd like that she hasn't had before. They gave us a list and we were able to incorporate all of it."
Jethro had been smiling happily since Tim said yes that Lu was here permanently and now his eyebrows rose as he inspected her craft room. "Wow, this is great!"
Opening the cabinets, he smiled at the accumulation of fabric, and in progress items, which were stored in storage boxes and labeled. The yarn for her knitting and crochet projects was in another section, again her works in progress were neatly stored and labeled. Examining the pegs attached to the inside of the doors, meant to hold spools of thread, he grinned at other items sharing the pegs with over a dozen spools of thread. Three pairs of scissors in different sizes, another that was something he remembered she called pinking shears, several cloth tape measures, two rulers with holes and string to hang them up, and a few long scraps of various colors of what looked like ribbons that Tim said was actually called bias tape.
He was very impressed and nodded his approval when Tim showed him the door from the craft room to the fire escape stairs. "You thought of everything!"
"Between all of us, yes. Morgan, Johnny, Tali, Tony, Dee, Charlie and Liz also contributed ideas. Dee says Liz used to sew. Come on, let's go back upstairs and outside, can't wait to show you our gardens and the pool."
"Pool, yay! Hey, with you leaving in late May, did you have to leave all your veggies?"
"We hitched a ride with the SecNav so we were able to bring all our coolers and insulated bags with what was ripe. After we left Ned stayed in the house for a few weeks as caretaker for us and the new owners which meant he reaped the bounty and he took what he couldn't eat to the office. So everyone feasted on our hard work. However, while we were at the residential hotel, we rented space at a community garden and raised most of the same veggies there. And more flowers."
Jethro shook his head, "I'm remembering all kinds of things now – the irises needed digging up and dividing."
"I gave our realtor that map I made of the front and back yards, and put a big note on it about the irises."
"Good! It's silly the things that pop into mind. But once irises get too crowded, it's like digging in concrete to get at them." He stopped again, "Are there rosebushes outside the front door here?"
"Yes and they're the ones you and Liz gave us, I didn't want to leave them behind. We dug them up before we put the house on the market, put something else in their places and brought the roses with us on the plane, in planters. Luckily we had outdoor space at the residential hotel and the condo and we kept them going until we could plant them here. While we were still in the condo, a lady from the State of California showed up to inspect them, making sure there weren't any of the insects that destroy California's food and wine crops."
Back upstairs, they went outside where Jethro was amazed to see the climate control dome over the pool. "That's handy!" The two of them sat on one of the benches placed in the garden.
"Yes, it's been great for Dee, she can swim year 'round, me too. Malu made her a faux fur robe with a hood and a lap blanket to match to wear to the pool and back to the house."
"She's safe swimming by herself?"
"She won't go in if no one else is home and always lets Malu, me or Charlie know when she's out there. We found a waterproof panic button online that she wears in the water. We tested it and were glad we told the neighbors ahead of time as it's plenty loud and the alarm is a voice saying "Pool Alert! Swimmer in Trouble!". I like that it's so specific. She uses a floaty that she sits in, so the swimming part is her arms and the little she can do with her feet. It's good for her circulation and just floating in the water takes some of the pressure off her back. We have a transfer chair so she can get in or out by herself and she puts the floaty on while she's in the transfer chair, before she's in the water." He added, "Malu and I took a water safety course last summer when we were living in the condo. Lifesaving basics because we also worry about the kids wandering out here. But they don't know the code to get in here and we change it every month. It also has a key and our neighbors have that and a key to the gate in front, so they can get in quickly if the alarm sounds. With all that, I'm glad the kids know how to swim!"
"Yes, that was a smart idea. I bet Tali had a good time swimming, too."
"Oh yeah, she's a water baby just like Johnny and Morgan." He paused, "Dad, tell me if you don't want to answer anything but I'm curious about your life at the camp. I know you had therapy sessions but that's about all I know."
Jethro huffed, "Almost every kind of therapy you've ever heard of and some you probably haven't. Had therapy sessions twice a day, with Sundays off unless someone was in crisis which was not uncommon. Sundays are hard on people, supposed to be family days and a lot of folks missed going to church. So, to begin with, each guest has a physical exam every other week and as I said, therapy every day except Sunday. It's private, one on one, until you feel, and your counselors agree, that you're ready for group therapy. I didn't do that until about December. I had my own quarters, bedroom and bathroom, small but mine. Other people also had their own and then there are dormitories and cabins for those who can handle sharing.
"I also had physical therapy which of course was my favorite activity. I wasn't allowed to participate in anything outdoors until the doctors and Physical therapists agreed that I was strong enough. At first PT was like you'd have recovering from an injury. So being well enough to start physical activity outside was like graduation day for me, when I'd been there several weeks. Then I hiked, rode horses, rode mountain bikes, there's an archery course which was fun and in the evenings there were card games, no gambling allowed, and they probably have every board game ever invented. I heard that some folks put on a play once. Sometimes I went to sit in the mess just to listen to other people talking around me and I'd write letters, I have those with me.
"I did chores around the camp, I worked in the stables, did a lot of repair work in the dorms, cabins, in the office, and generally around the camp, worked in the kitchen and helped maintain the camp vehicles. Anything anyone knows how to do or can be taught to do to maintain the camp is well received. They run on a shoe string. And that's how they handle having however many guests there are in therapy and still run the camp. The rules are strict and are posted, the guests are not required to help but considering the jobs we come from, I doubt there are many who don't pitch in.
"Former guests have donated various things, among them inflatable pools and they also send funds every spring to pay for supplies for them. There are four pools, two oval and two rectangular, perfect to swim in and there was plenty of room. I helped maintain those, too, check the purity of the water, add chemicals as needed, cover them every night. Someone made hard covers because the animals had no problems getting through the soft covers that tie on. Just lucky no claws punctured the pool fabric!"
"Over the years, the place has been there since 1982, people have donated wood or volunteered to build things with it. Along with the cabins and dorms, various guests built a large deck that houses all four of the pools and the covers. For safety, there are gates and no one is allowed to swim past dusk when the wildlife likes to visit.
"On our hikes in the summer and fall, we also did work toward fire prevention, clearing out dead wood and hauling it away, we had scythes, sickles and folding rakes to get rid of the weeds, shovels for the really stubborn ones and in case we came across a fire. No weed eaters or any power tools out on the trails, too dangerous as far as throwing sparks and starting fires. The first hiking group out in the early morning would cut and rake, the second group would do a little more and then haul it back to the camp. You know me and wood! I gathered everything I thought I could use in any kind of project. It's all bundled up in the truck.
"When I first got there, we had a few campfires after dark, but only when the air was dead still. By the beginning of July, those had stopped and didn't start again until after the first few rains in January. While it didn't snow, there was some frost and it was a little chilly during the winter. I'm glad Fornell told me to bring my knit caps, scarves, gloves and a jacket. I brought all I had and shared what I didn't need.
"I had a lot of therapy that was helped immensely by being in the fresh air, having a lot of physical activity, being productive in some manner and most of all, being away from the world. There was no news of any sort, anything could have happened and the guests would not have known, I'm not even sure the staff knew! The therapies they practice with each guest are Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies. Their approach focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering patients' unconscious meanings and motivations. We had Behavior therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Holistic therapy and Humanistic therapy. Although every guest has all of those, I was told that each guest is evaluated frequently to determine which of the therapies are likely to be the best for that person.
"I tell you, son, I never thought I'd have to go through something like this nor would I ever think I'd agree to it. But I was so lost, for months I'd been operating by rote and every day it felt like I'd lost more of me. I'd remember things that didn't happen or deny that things had happened. The week you and Nick busted the serial killer, I was verging on a breakdown. I think that benighted trek with Bishop was close to the last straw. That Thursday, after you came to the house the night before, I convinced Vance to meet me at the diner rather than going into the office because I knew I couldn't face your absence, see your empty desk.
"I guess it was a good thing that it happened the way it did because I broke down at the diner, with Leon and Elaine there. Leon called Dr. Grace and drove me straight to her office and from there I went to Bethesda. I agreed I needed medical care for sleep deprivation. I remember feeling relieved that was the problem.
"At the hospital, I slept most of the time and when I was awake I had therapy sessions and that's when they cut back my coffee consumption to 2 cups a day, of regular coffee, not the full strength I usually drank. Finally I was discharged. Tobias picked me up at the hospital, I think that was the day you left, and we went to the cabin for a few days. I wasn't allowed to be by myself and although I got a little blustery about it, I was glad I wasn't alone.
"When we returned from the cabin, we alternated staying at his place, my place and then a few days at Pat Cooke's ranch. Don't know if you remember him, used to be ATF, he's an old Marine buddy. We also spent time with LJ, took him fishing at Fletcher's Cove a couple of days, which we all enjoyed.
He stopped to take a breath, shaking his head as he continued, "The first time we went to my house, I got out of the car expecting to see the damage done by Ziva's terrorists. It was the end of May and I thought I'd been gone since the end of September and nobody had fixed the damage. That's how confused I was. The doctors told me I was killing myself, not actively, but by not getting help, not asking for help, pushing you away and basically not eating or sleeping. I was binging on coffee which was also helping to kill me. I was doing my best to die without even realizing it."
Tim pulled him into his arms and held on. "I wish I'd been able to do more than I did. I knew you weren't yourself but you didn't want anyone's help. Tony and I decided later that help had to come from your peers, Tobias and Leon, not your kids."
Tim felt him nod into his shoulder and he rubbed his back. "Tobias told us that going to the camp and through therapy was the hardest thing he's ever had to do and the most healing thing he's ever experienced."
Dad sat back, still maintaining physical contact with his son, "He nailed that. As I said, it felt like my soul, my self, was being shredded but the healing is worth it. Tobias says it still is, years after he went through it and I believe I'll say the same thing." He gave his kid a wan smile, "And I'm allowed to go for tune-ups when I feel I need them."
Tim nodded and then wondered aloud, "I know the camp works with military, law enforcement and first responders. Was it a mix of people and were there both men and women there?"
"It was a mix and yes, there were both men and women. In the months I was there, I think there was every kind of military, including reservists, as well as cops, sheriffs, prison guards and federal agents. Those were the most reserved bunch, not a lot of public sharing. I did, a little, to prove to myself that I could. The first responders were the most vocal and that was heartbreaking. You know, they're the ones who clean up after us, or clean us up, when we've been in a firefight or in a situation like the attack on my home. Which brings me to Tony. How is he?"
"He's doing all right, Dad. He and Ziva aren't together, he won't let her near Tali without his supervision and for a while both Tali and Tony had protection details 24/7. He told me he doesn't trust Ziva not to grab Tali and take her to Israel to begin her training. And he feels that way because she threatened to do it. For a while, she would come to visit and Tony would sit in with them. Now she only visits via Skype, with Tony also present. I showed him how to trace her Skype call, so he'll know where she's physically located. He has full legal custody of Tali, in the U.S, Israel, France, well the EU, and the UK.
"He and Tali were here until the end of February and then they stopped in Florida to visit an old friend, someone who helped raise Tony. So they're only been home a week or so. Tali goes to school online, on the computer, which is safer for her and allows them to travel. I spoke with him the other night and the latest is that Ziva's former employer has agreed to pay for her treatment for severe PTS in a maximum security hospital. She's there now.
"As for Tony, he'd love to be able to date but he can't bring himself to leave Tali with anyone. He's considering moving here, although he also had a call from one of his Paddington cousins. Do you remember when his great uncle died and the schmuck cousin who inherited made him pay back a loan from the great uncle?"
"I do, yes. Ducky gave him the money before I could jump in."
Tim nodded with a smile, "I was so happy and relieved when he finally told me that! Anyway, the cousin who called recently is the younger brother of the schmuck and said his brother lied, that Tony did have an inheritance and that the loan was forgiven in the will. Tony and Tali are taking the train to London this week, on Friday, to meet with Nigel, the cousin who contacted him. I hope this is a good sign. Two good signs in one week, you coming home and Nigel's call!"
Jethro huffed, "I'm relieved someone in his mother's family reached out to him! I think that blow nearly knocked him down. And I can't believe Mr. Science and Logic is talking about good omens!"
"Hey, science hasn't yet uncovered all the wonders of the universe. And I'm old enough to know that logic doesn't always apply when human beings are involved."
"That's good, just don't get too superstitious!"
Tim laughed, "No danger there. Do you feel like taking a swim or settling in for a bit? Malu should be home from her outing in another couple of hours."
He grinned at Dad's face, all lit up and happy. "Swim, if you'll join me?"
"Sure. How about I set up a Skype call with you and Tony for tomorrow morning? It's past midnight in France now."
"Sounds good. What time here?"
"I leave for work at 0740, take the kids to daycare and then go on to the office. How about I set it up for 0730, then I'll say hello and take off and you two can talk as long as you want."
"You can't go in late when you're the boss?"
"I could but I don't unless there's an emergency or I have a medical appointment. And I took the day off today. I was only home early yesterday because we had a callout at 0500, a BOLO netted a Person of Interest that turned into a suspect, who confessed. So by 1300, he was on his way to the county jail to wait for his arraignment. By 1430, I was ready for a nap, nearly falling asleep while doing my reports. Cassie and Vijay, my field agents, felt the same way, so we left early. Told the boss we'd be offsite the rest of the day. My admins started at their regular time so they kept the office open until 1700."
"You close the office at 5? And admins?"
"Yes, the office opens at 0800 and has an hour break for lunch. My admins are our dispatch/receptionist, we do have walk-ins, and our office manager."
Dad huffed, "That's different."
"It is different, took me a couple of weeks to get used to that. You worked at Southwest, LA and the Navy Yard, all big offices. We're a sub office reporting to Southwest, so we have admins. I also have two remote agents who report to me. I promoted one and he's been transferred. Jordan is training a probie agent now."
"Are they field agents?"
"Yes, although their territory see-saws between needing a Field presence or a Case Agent. Jordan's a good agent with solid field training, he'll train his probie and I'll probably promote her to my team when she's finished her probationary year. I'll have both my local field agents on the promotions list by then. Then Jordan, the remote agent, and I will find another probie for him to train. He doesn't want to leave the area and doesn't really need a fully trained second field agent; however, he's great at training."
"That's an interesting setup. How about we call Tony earlier, then you can say hello, too. I'd like to have both of you online at the same time."
"Then I can drop off for work, sure." He got an affectionate neck squeeze for that and smiled. "It's so great that you're here! We have a notebook that we've kept with things to tell you; Lu has custody of it."
Walking into the house, each quickly changed and then headed for the pool. Dee and the kids welcomed them, telling them it was about time they joined them!
The two men swam laps for several minutes and played with the children before they started talking again, Dee joining in. When Tim's watch buzzed, he grinned, "Malu will be home in a few minutes. We have just enough time to dry off and get dressed."
Dee nodded, "I'm all pruney so I'm out."
Jethro nodded, "Me too."
When Tim yawned, the others laughed.
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Deciding to surprise Lu, by the time she arrived, the others had their plan ready. First, Tim disabled the garage door so it wouldn't open automatically. Then Dee sent a text to Lu telling her about it and to park in the driveway. Tim was outside when the Prius pulled up.
He kissed his mother as she removed her seatbelt. She smiled, "You're home early, that's good!"
"Actually, I ended up taking the day off. How was your cliff walk?"
"Oh, it was beautiful, that huge moon shining on the ocean and the cliffs! I'm so glad I went. We all had a good time, looks like our trip to Catalina is on although not until May."
"Good!" Tim grabbed her overnight bag and gave her a hug when she got out of the car. "I'll move your car into the garage later. I never washed my car last night!"
"Is Dee home too?"
"Yes, she worked from home so she's been in the pool most of the afternoon. The kids are here too."
They'd reached the front door and Tim opened it, standing aside so his mother could go in first. With a smile, Lu patted his face as she stepped inside and Tim heard a surprised 'Jethro!' He grinned as he walked in, seeing his father kissing his mother.
NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS
When Rob showed up for dinner, Dee gave her husband a saucy grin. Although his reunion with Jethro wasn't quite as teary, it was every bit as happy.
As for dinner itself, they'd intended to have a baked chicken dish but instead had grilled chicken, with none other than the grill master himself, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, insisting on doing the honors. By the time they finished eating and clearing up, it was close to the twins' bedtime and Poppy asked if he could help them with their nighttime routine. Dee and Tim nodded happily while Lu said she'd help.
After sending the call request to Tony for the next morning, Tim found he was exhausted, which he thought might just be from letting go of his worry about his father. Waiting until he'd said goodnight to Morgan and Johnny, he kissed each of his parents goodnight. "Sorry to be a party pooper, but I'm wiped out!"
Dee seconded him and after the twins were asleep, they disappeared into their bedroom. Tim felt bad, ditching Dad on his first night although he thought the man probably wanted to spend more time with his mom. He made a face at that. While he loved the idea of them being a couple, he didn't want to think about the physical aspects of that. When he told Dee that a few days later, she laughed so hard she nearly slid out of her chair.
"Honey, most people go through that when they're kids and learn about the 'birds and the bees'."
"I have no memories of my mother and I knew that Sarah was what was called a 'test tube' baby back then and what that meant. So I didn't actually have to think about my father and my mother having sex and I never considered Natalie my mother or the Commander's bed partner. I don't remember if they even slept in the same room."
"You know that's why my parents got married, Mom was already pregnant with me. She's never forgiven Dad for that, even if she will, when she's had enough wine, admit that it was consensual and she'd made a big play for him, a Marine in his dress blues. She dumped him as soon as it was socially acceptable, when I was about four and struck gold, her words, with my stepdad. At least she played somewhat fair in letting Dad see me whenever he could. She always fussed but never stuck with no. Maybe that was guilt."
That night, the night his dad came home, Tim slept like a rock, straight through the night and was awake early. To his delight, so was his love and the two of them took full advantage of the extra personal time.
If both men had a certain bounce in their stride as each poured his beverage of choice into a mug the next morning, neither said anything, although they did exchange hugs before sitting at the kitchen table, Jethro sitting out of the tablet's camera range. When Tim pinged Tony, he smiled at his brother, "Good afternoon!"
"Hey, good morning to you! So what's up, we usually talk on the weekends."
"I know but there's something you should know as soon as possible."
"Wha…" Tony broke into a cheer when their dad moved into camera range. "Dad, you're home, welcome back! Wow, this is great!"
"Hi, son, I'm happy to see you and you're looking well! I got here yesterday afternoon, surprised everyone which was fun."
"How, did the camp provide transport?"
"I had my pickup moved out here when I flew out last June. It was stored at a moving and storage company near the camp. So, yes, I had transportation to the storage yard but I drove myself from there."
Tony peered into the camera and, remembering Tim looking at his eyes yesterday, Jethro moved forward. Tony sat back, smiling happily. "You look good, Dad, your eyes are sparkly and bright, I think brighter than I've ever seen them."
"Thanks, son. I am well, I told Tim last night that I feel better than I have since I lost my mother. There's a whole lot more to tell, but I'm hoping to do it in person."
"Absolutely! Tim, Tali and I would like to visit for a few weeks, if that's all right."
"You know it is, Tony, anytime!"
"Okay, I'll let you know. I'll rent a car like I did last time so you won't have to pick us up at the airfield."
In unison, Tim and Dad said, "Airfield?"
"Yes, airfield. Dad, don't know if in your catching up Tim told you I had a call from one of my Paddington cousins?"
"He did and we were hoping to hear more."
Tony opened his mouth as Tim's cell rang. Stepping away, he answered, said a couple of words, made 2 quick phone calls, came back to the table, kissed the top of his father's head, waved at Tony and turned saying, "Gotta go, callout to the base, their team's already on a case. See you tonight. Tony, send me a text so we can air out your rooms."
As he left, Jethro turned back to the camera, "Phooey, I don't want to wait to hear about the Paddingtons!"
"Good, I don't want to wait to tell you. So here's what happened…" Tony told him of the phone call from his younger Paddington cousin Nigel telling him that Crispian had lied about the loan to be repaid and the lack of inheritance from Great Uncle Clive. "Tali and I took the train to London on Saturday and stayed with Nigel's family. They have two kids, one two years older than Tali, the other her age, so she was very happy. And they're great people, Dad, very welcoming and upset at what Crispian did to me. Turns out he lied about several things. Anyway, he's out of the story now, in prison for a few years. Nigel gave me a check for my inheritance from Uncle Clive, plus interest and another check for the money that paid off the loan. I've already let Ducky know. In addition to that..." Tony went on to detail what he'd been told, as part of his mother's will, he had her shares of the Paddington North Oil Company in addition to what he should have been given when he reached his majority and was now a majority stockholder. "So it's a good thing I'd already left the agency! Anyway, that put me on the list for the company's perks, one of which is a small fleet of company, meaning private, jets. I'm allowed to use them whenever I want, either for business or pleasure. Which also means we can visit more often or live wherever we want to. Dad, neither Tali nor I will ever have to worry about money again and I've got it legally locked up so Ziva can never get her hands on it. Although if she needs financial help, I'll certainly step up. Uh, did Tim tell you about that?"
"Yes, son. He told me enough that that makes sense. He also said you called in help from her former employer."
"Yes and before that, we needed 24/7 protection, I asked for help from a friend of Senior's, if you can believe that! But it worked, we're safe and Ziva's getting the help she so desperately needs. I've spoken with her friend Monique who hadn't seen or heard from her since before the farmhouse debacle and she agreed to let me know if she heard anything from Ziva or about her."
"Good. Now tell me what else."
"Ah, you still got it! Okay, two things. One is that part of my inheritance is a large house in London. It's been empty since Uncle Clive's death so I'm having it cleaned up and renovated and Uncle left me plenty of money for that. Second is that Director Vance asked me to consult on a case in London. They were originally going to hand it off to Marseille as that's closer to us but after Cousin Nigel called, I let Vance know and London kept it. And I met the team lead, we'll be working together. Her name is Maggie Barnes and Dad, she's a Captain in the Marine Reserves! I met her Monday afternoon and we had drinks that evening and dinner on Tuesday. Tali and I took the train home yesterday after Maggie and I met for coffee in the morning."
"That's wonderful, Anthony, I hope things continue to go well! And I'm proud of you for diving back into the dating pool."
"Thanks on both counts. What I'm thinking now and I'm sorry, I'm doing all the talking and I have a million questions for you!"
"That's all right. Come visit. Your questions, and Tim's, will be easier to answer in person."
"Okay, that's what I'm thinking. It's chilly and rainy here, it's probably tank tops and shorts weather there."
"Not quite but I'm told it will be in a few weeks."
"Ok, I'll schedule a flight on Paddington Air and let everyone know. I can't wait to see you in person! Tali's out on a playdate. How about we call you tomorrow during your morning, a little later maybe? She'll be upset she didn't get to see you."
"Yes, that's good. Please tell her I love her, love you both, and can't wait to see her!"
"How were the twins when they saw you?"
"I was amazed they knew who I was! They weren't even two last time I saw them and they're almost 3 ½ now! But they ran right to me!"
"And were you surprised to see Lu?"
"I'd asked Tim and was surprised to hear she'd retired and is living here. Surprised and very happy!'
They talked for a few more minutes before Tony had to leave to bring Tali home.
Satisfied with the call and with the lives of both his boys, Jethro sat back, thinking about his life and his family. Along with learning to deal with and when possible let go of the traumas and troubles, the losses, the grief and anger, he'd had his eyes opened to the amount of love he'd been blessed with throughout his life. He hadn't always acknowledged or even recognized it but it had been there just the same. His father after his mother's death, even if an angry young Jethro blamed him and fought him every step of the way. Then his beloved Shannon and their daughter, who reconnected him to his father. Their love was followed by the friendship extended by Mike Franks, a friendship that kept him alive after he'd lost his girls and pushed his father away again. That was another thing, the people that had been lost. It was just as important to remember that they were gifts in the first place. And in the last 20 years, he'd gained even more people he'd loved, his team and regained his beloved 'Uncle LJ'. He hadn't thought about it much before, but now he was grateful that LJ had pawned his medal and brought himself back into the Gibbs' family in time to renew his friendship with Jack and become a full fledged member of Jethro's family. That family grew from several members of his team: Ducky, Tony, Tim, Abby, Kate, Torres, Jimmy, Tobias, to his surprise his boss Leon, and despite their troubles, Ziva and Ellie.
Now, with Tali, Morgan and Johnny, he had grandchildren, another generation to love, cherish, help shepherd through their young lives and pass along the best of his knowledge and experiences.
Having dug up the pain and learned better ways of dealing with it, he'd also found joy again, allowing it back into his life. Now he was home with his family and if he closed his eyes, he could see the connections stretching from Anne, Jackson and LJ to Shannon and Kelly to Mike Franks to Tobias Fornell to Ducky to Jenny Shepard to Kate, Tony, Tim, Abby and the others, now including the newest generation. He was home and in some ways, he'd never been away.