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Letting Go, Moving On

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Prologue

Tim McGee forced himself not to slam the front door as he left Gibbs' house. The door with its glass inset was a piece of art, it wasn't its fault that it belonged to the most obstinate, narrow minded man on the planet.

He'd been shocked and then thrilled when the woman he'd loved as a sister and had mourned since her death three years before had come back to them, very much alive. Not only was he happy for Ziva herself, but also for Tony, Gibbs and the rest of their NCIS family.

However, along with joy, her return brought days of chaos, confusion and danger, with bullets flying, nearly destroying Gibbs and his home and leaving him missing or out of contact for longer than Tim wanted to think about.

His problem now was not really with Ziva although he'd love to hear what she'd said to Gibbs, as his chosen dad had not been himself since her arrival. His problem was with Gibbs, who seemed to have tossed his personal relationships out the window, as grandfather to Morgan, Johnny and Tali and his paternal relationships with Tim and Tony.

It wasn't that Tim resented Gibbs' attention to Ziva. He was overjoyed to know she was alive. And while he wished Gibbs hadn't been hurt while helping Ziva, he was thankful he'd been able to help and that they'd been successful. Nor was he that selfish or thin-skinned. He had a wife, siblings and children, he knew how to share and that parents are capable of loving more than one child.

With Ziva's arrival, although Tim hadn't known at first, events had moved so fast there was hardly time to think of anything other than finding and busting the terrorist who was doing her best to kill Gibbs and whoever he was with, which yes, turned out to be Ziva. But they'd prevailed, Gibbs and Ziva survived and she'd eventually left to reunite with Tali and Tony.

That's when Tim stepped in to provide support for his dad, his boss. Over the years, he and Gibbs had found common ground and grown closer, to the point that Tim's boss was 'Dad' outside of work as well as 'Poppy' to his children and his wife's 'other' father.

What McGee ran into was a solid wall of resistance. Leroy Jethro Gibbs wasn't dealing with anything but work these days, not acknowledging any relationships outside of work or that they'd ever existed. No way. His mannerisms reminded Tim of the Gibbs he'd first met nearly two decades ago. Hard-assed, impatient, blunt to the point of rudeness, focused only on work, living up to the old nickname Tony created a decade ago, 'functional mute', intolerant of any human interaction that didn't involve a criminal case, although to be honest McGee had no idea if the man was seeing anyone outside work.

During the early hours of Ziva's return, when Tim learned of Ziva's survival he'd also learned of Bishop's deception, her secret-keeping, that she'd known of Ziva's status for several months. Deeply disturbed by her choosing to keep the secret of a woman she'd never met and to his knowledge had little information about, he waited to talk with Gibbs.

When his boss was unavailable, McGee went to the Director. Withholding information was a big deal, could be seen as 'obstruction of justice', especially in this situation where Gibbs, Ziva or any of them might have been seriously injured or killed because of Bishop's 'secret'. It was costing Gibbs, or his insurance company, thousands of dollars to repair his home. It wasn't just personal, it was protocol and they were criminal investigators first before being friends or family. Tim wrestled with the decision, finally discussing it with a trusted colleague, who was as appalled as he was. With that, he went to the director who was livid, asking pointed questions about Bishop's behavior.

McGee found himself asking the man to let Gibbs handle it. At that point he didn't know whether Gibbs knew or not. With Gibbs' current behavior and attitude, Tim felt that the team was teetering on the edge of a dangerous abyss. Considering the history of the MCRT, it certainly wasn't the first time. However, Special Agent McGee followed his instincts, his gut, updating Director Vance.

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After his dad's house had been repaired, there'd been no further violence and Tim thought Jethro had had some time to recover from the shock as well as the violence, Tim took the twins over one evening to say hello. They missed their Poppy, Gibbs' grandfatherly name, and asked for him frequently. Ziva had been gone for a few weeks, Gibbs' young friend Phineas was safely and happily living with his foster parents and work seemed to be going all right.

Tim did have some concerns about the team but tonight he'd really just hoped to bring some cheer to his dad and his children. He'd sent a text asking if it was convenient but hadn't received a reply. Checking the security cameras he'd re-installed at the house after the shooting, everything looked peaceful and the light was on in the basement. Tim smirked, his cell was probably upstairs where even Gibbs' super-hearing might not have caught it.

Arriving at the house, he and the twins walked up the sturdy ramp he and Dad built for Dee's access. Tim knocked once and then used his key to open the door. Leaving the kids sitting at the kitchen table to finish the drawings they'd brought for Poppy, he poked his head into the basement where he spotted the man sanding a large piece of wood.

"Hey, Dad. I sent a text, guess you didn't see it. The kids are here with me, they'd like to say hello."

The man didn't look up but shook his head, "No."

"No?"

"You got a hearing problem? Unless you have something about work to discuss, leave."

Deciding not to argue, Tim knew an apology would make things worse. "All right, we'll go."

As he turned to go, the older man said, "How did you get in?"

"I used the key you had made for us."

Gibbs shook his head, holding out his hand, and Tim silently took it off his key ring and put it in his hand.

As he walked up the stairs, Gibbs said, "The name's Gibbs."

Chapter 1

Three Weeks Later

Once again, Tim McGee forced himself not to slam the front door as he left Gibbs' house, thinking of the movie "Groundhog Day" where events repeated themselves, although this was certainly no comedy. At least this time, perhaps as more of an effort to get McGee to shut up and go away than to actually follow through on his words, he'd promised he'd speak with their misguided and increasingly untrustworthy teammate, Eleanor Bishop.

The case they'd finally closed this week would have been, should have been, closed two weeks ago had Bishop mentioned the information she'd learned from a witness but didn't mention to anyone else. She'd ignored it, apparently believing it was inconsequential. Once they had the information, it took them less than four hours to obtain an arrest warrant, detain their suspect and get him to lockup. They didn't need a confession, from what Bishop finally told them they had enough physical evidence for a conviction. During the time between when Bishop should have said something and when she finally did, three more homes and two businesses had been torched by a Navy Petty Officer. While that was bad enough, they were all damn lucky nobody had been hurt or worse, killed while she sat on the information.

This was not the first time this had happened. By McGee's count, this was at least the 4th time that Bishop withheld what turned out to be crucial information and/or evidence, including the information about Ziva's survival. He'd remonstrated with her, she'd had additional training, he'd written her up, he'd done everything he was allowed to do as the Senior Field Agent but it hadn't made any difference. Along with her obstinacy, once she realized that Gibbs wasn't backing McGee, she'd stopped listening. On one other occasion, besides Ziva's status, Tim had gone to the director as the information she'd withheld had involved security and Gibbs wasn't available.

Now, at a loss, frustrated and beginning to wonder if he was wrong, Tim did not want to go back to the director. Instead, he went to two people he trusted implicitly. One was his best friend and former SFA, Tony DiNozzo. DiNozzo and McGee had trained Bishop together. Tony knew her pretty well and when he heard what she'd been up to, he agreed with Tim's reasoning.

Tim had been very careful to stick to the facts, to remove the emotion from the discussion. While he was relieved at his friend's agreement with his stance, he also understood DiNozzo's last words, "Look, this is Boss at his worst. Almost his worst. No one's going to make him boot her off the team. For one thing, he chose her for his team, so pride is involved. There's no way he's going to give anyone the satisfaction of saying he was wrong. And, you know, he's also kept information to himself, although as the SSA, that's a bit different. I agree with you that this is likely the result of her PTS, but that's not something he'll ever discuss. An even bigger piece of the Gibbs' puzzle is that although he may have told you and me that he wanted us as his SFAs, that did not mean he was ever going to listen to either of us. From what I can tell, the two of you have been on some sort of Boss-SFA honeymoon for the past few years. It looks like that's over now, Tim, sorry."

Tim sighed, he'd been afraid that was the case. He'd thought as close as they'd been personally that things would be different or at least that their work relationship would have gone sour first. Obviously he was wrong. "Thanks for being candid with me, Tony. I'm thinking I got extra time because of Dee's problems, the wedding and then Paraguay, maybe all the way back to Somalia."

"Yeah, that makes sense. That's two or three times he recognized that you needed help and extended it, felt guilty about Somalia and a little paternal with the wedding and pregnancy. Then you two were comrades in misery, he wasn't Boss for all those weeks, even after your return. When did you first notice it?"

"In him? In late September when Ziva returned, although not until she'd gone again."

Tony snorted in derision, "His golden girl returned."

"Uh, Tony?"

"That's another conversation, not ready for it yet."

"Okay. So, other than not asking questions, is there anything I can do to help?"

A deep sigh, "Keep in touch! It really helps, especially when we can both have a good laugh about something."

"I can do that. I'll even let you watch my tap-dancing video again."

"Wow, thanks man!"

That was disheartening and Tim hoped, prayed, that Tony and Ziva would be able to work through their problems. He knew committed relationships weren't easy, he and Dee had certainly had their ups and downs, although they were in a good place now.

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The next person Tim talked with was Special Agent Rick Carter, who'd been one of his mentors since he'd first transferred to Gibbs' team, discreetly providing training for the probationary agent. As a squad room denizen and leader of his own team, Rick knew quite a bit about what was going on. He also agreed with Tim's opinions and echoed Tony's comments about Gibbs so closely that Tim wondered if he'd actually spoken with Tony. However, although Tony liked Rick, he'd been so embarrassed when he'd learned how much training, help and encouragement Probie McGee had been given by Special Agent Carter and Special Agent Jim O'Brien, another trusted colleague, that he was still uncomfortable with them.

What Tim found even sadder about the current situation was that Gibbs continued to be estranged from the grandbabies he'd been so proud of, as well as Dee and him. Where once they considered themselves chosen 'father and son', they were now strangers outside of work and their professional relationship became increasingly strained.

At least Gibbs had promised to talk with Bishop. That was something.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

While Gibbs might have promised in good faith to speak with Bishop, he waited too long.

Several weeks later the MCRT was chasing a serial killer whose last four victims were Navy and Marine personnel. For over a month, they worked to find any leads, anything that would allow them to identify, locate and arrest the killer. They worked late nights, several all-nighters, most of every weekend and were getting nowhere. They had leads, they had evidence, they had information but hadn't been able to connect any of it with whoever was doing the killing.

A month into their search there had been three more murder victims, at least there were three more that they knew of. Late one Monday morning, halfway through their fifth week on the case, Bishop said she'd found something, a location that she believed would give them more information. Gibbs nodded to Bishop, "Let's go." As he walked out with his gear bag, he said, "We'll let you know."

Ignoring the condescending remark and waiting until he was sure they were well on their way, knowing from Bishop that there was more than two hours travel time involved, Tim sent Torres to buy lunch for them both.

While he was gone, McGee searched Bishop's laptop, finding information about the case that was new to him and as far as he was aware, new to Torres and Gibbs. And it wasn't the information Bishop mentioned this morning. This information had been sitting on Bishop's laptop for weeks.

When Nick returned, he found Tim on the hunt.

"You find something?"

"Yes, I'll tell you more in a bit, I…hang on."

Torres put Tim's lunch and cold drink on his desk, returning to his desk while keeping an eye on his superior as the man's fingers flew over the keyboard. Within minutes, electronic records streamed onto the screen. While he ate, Tim delved deeper into the records and then sat up straight. "Got him! We need arrest and search warrants now!"

Having worked with McGee for a few years now, Nick had recognized the signs of the man on a hunt that wouldn't stop until he hit the proverbial brick wall and even then he sometimes kept going. Because of that, the warrant requests were ready to go, only needing the specific information. Tim gave him the information and the requests were sent.

In what had to be one of the fastest turnarounds ever, they had their warrants in less than 30 minutes. As Vance was on Capitol Hill dealing with members of Congress, Tim sent word to Special Agent Carter that he and Torres were leaving to arrest their killer.

Deciding to take backup, McGee borrowed two additional agents, one from Carter's team and one from Balboa's. Taking agency sedans, the four agents had their approach ready by the time they reached the killer's current location, his home. That information, along with the suspect's cell number, had been derived from the information Tim found on Bishop's laptop.

When the slime-ball tried to make a run for it, McGee tackled him, wrestling him to the ground, swapping with Torres as he slapped handcuffs on the suspect. The loaner agents were impressed, McGee was in his 40s but despite having a bit of a "dad bod", he was still in good shape, wasn't even out of breath. Nick was proud of his teammate and tried not to be visibly gleeful that the two of them had busted the case.

Returning to the Navy Yard, the two agents tag-teamed the interrogation. With the evidence they had and more that Kasie could now connect, it didn't take them long to bust the murderer.

Sending a text to Gibbs, Tim made no comment when there wasn't a response. He sent a text to Bishop, also with no response. Thinking Nick might get a better response, he asked him to contact the rest of their team. His calls were also not answered. As this was against Gibbs' own rules and might mean something was wrong, Tim reported it to Agent Carter, who usually stood in when Vance was unavailable.

In the meantime, alerted by Carter, Vance had returned to the office in time to watch the interrogation. He was proud of his agents although puzzled at McGee's hidden fury. When Carter told him as much as he was comfortable sharing, the director made a decision for which he had decidedly mixed feelings.

Mixed with his pride in McGee's and Torres' success was the sad acknowledgement of three things. One, the chasm between Gibbs and McGee was worse than he thought. Two, it was time to take care of problems he'd ordered Gibbs to handle and either hadn't or hadn't been obeyed. And three, he now had an answer to an unrelated problem that had cropped up in the past few days.

When the suspect finished his statement, including burial and dumping grounds, there were more bodies than anyone knew about, he was taken to their lockup for booking. Tim helped Torres set up the recovery teams for the remaining bodies, which were in different areas of the country and under multiple jurisdictions. Once that was done, he treated him to a coffee before they returned to the bullpen, ready to tackle the first of many reports.

As Tim booted up his desktop, Vance called his desk phone. "The MCRT has worked hard to catch that creep. Congratulations to you and Torres for putting all the pieces together and bringing him in! Get your preliminary reports done and bring them up to me, copy Gibbs. You can send Torres home after you have his prelims. You are both off duty, on compensatory time, until next Monday. When you bring the reports up, you and I will have a chat."

His adrenaline still pumped, Tim agreed and hanging up, turned to Nick. "Director Vance sends congratulations to you and me for bringing in the dirtbag. He wants us to get our prelims done, then you can take off. We're on comp time until next Monday. Do not show your face in the office. And Nick, here are my orders for you: Catch up on your sleep and rest. Rest your body, brain and heart. Sleep, rest, fun. Enjoy the time off, we've earned it!"

Nick nodded, "And you'll do that too."

"Absolutely!"

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Tim watched Nick leave before emailing their reports to Gibbs and popping the hard copies into a folder. He was a little surprised that Vance wanted paper copies, that was unlike him.

Logging off his desktop computer and locking his desk, he walked up the stairs and across the catwalk. Catching peripheral movement, he glanced down and saw Rick Carter smiling and giving him a thumbs up. He nodded his appreciation.

Pam waved him into the director's inner sanctum and Tim squared his shoulders. He knew he and Nick had done well in the bust, it was clean and the interrogation had given them additional information. This arrest would not only clear their case, it would likely clear open cases, even cold cases, for the FBI, State and Local Law enforcement entities around the country. However, that didn't mean Agent Bishop was in the clear.

Vance stood when Tim entered the office and took the folder when it was handed to him. Then he gestured to the sofa.

As McGee followed him, he thanked the director for the comp time. Today was Monday, it was not quite 1430 and they'd been after this guy for nearly 5 weeks. With all that, he knew Gibbs would never have agreed to more than a day of rest, possibly two. Still, he was not about to question Director Vance's generosity! He only had one question, "Director, you'll advise Agent Gibbs of the comp time?"

Vance inwardly winced at McGee's words which, sadly, gave him an even better picture of how deep the chasm had grown between the two men. In a situation like this, McGee would normally say he'd let Gibbs know.

He nodded, "Yes, McGee, I'll let him know." Sitting, he motioned to Tim, who joined him, sighing as he sat on the comfortable sofa. Before Vance could say anything, Tim told him what had happened, that he'd trolled through Bishop's notes and found information she once again had kept to herself. They talked about that for a few minutes before Vance said he would now handle it, that Bishop had ignored whatever Gibbs had said to her. There was no way to avoid serious consequences as her lack of action had led to more deaths.

Then the director gave him a proud look, "As I said earlier, you did a great job! When I got the text from Carter, I was in a meeting with Secretary Porter and members of the Congressional Oversight Committee. She and the Chairperson of the Committee asked to pass along their compliments. That was great timing, although I know that was purely serendipitous. Now, Agent McGee, we do need to talk. We've previously discussed the problem on the team, one that has split it down the middle and has Bishop's name on it."

McGee tilted his head, "Not quite down the middle. Torres isn't involved. And, sir, it's not just the problem with Bishop."

"All right. I'm glad Torres is not involved. Of all the problems I've seen on the MCRT over the years, this seems to be the worst."

McGee huffed, "That's probably because DiNozzo was better at hiding his feelings than I am."

"Mmm, no, he has his own tells. I'm crossing the line here but I hope Gibbs will realize what an ass he's been and do something about it."

The fact that Vance knew there was a problem, in addition to Bishop's strange behavior, was almost inescapable. Along with the security cameras, there was very little auditory privacy within the squad room and the MCRT bullpen had the best acoustics in the area, possibly in the building. And then there was also the well-honed NCIS grapevine. Although Tim had done his best to keep the heated 'discussions' out of the office, he had no control over what Gibbs said or did.

That the director placed the blame on Gibbs was a bit surprising although when Tim later thought about the conversation, he realized it was SOP for Gibbs to be an ass, to ignore his Second in Command and for Vance to place the blame for any tangible discord on Gibbs. That Tim no longer wanted to operate under that SOP was a new component.

The truth was, he'd been so focused on catching the serial killer that he hadn't allowed himself to think about Gibbs' growing disregard and disrespect of his opinion and the man's ignoring the problem which had been ongoing for over a year, that is, Bishop's tendency to hare off on her own and to keep information to herself. Not to mention the 'special training' she was receiving from Ziva's friend Odette. Beyond "former CIA", her past was murky and whatever the 'special training' involved was even murkier.

At first Tim thought it might be something like MMA or some physical strength training which would have been great but recently he'd learned something that told him it was more covert in nature. However, his real problem with his teammate was the repeated withholding of information from her team. After his discovery today, he'd lost what few shreds of trust and respect he still had for her.

Now, disheartened and unable to verbalize his thoughts, he simply nodded in reply to Vance's statement.

"You're exhausted, McGee, I can see that and I won't keep you long. Two things I want you to do over the next week. One is to rest and I mean physically, mentally and emotionally. Play with your children, take your wife on a date, have some fun. The second is to prepare for a new job."

He smiled when Tim looked up sharply. "We have a situation in California that needs someone with your experience and expertise. Came up late last week and we managed to arrange cover for the time being. However, I need you out there three weeks from today, sooner if you can manage it." He stopped to give himself a chance to change his mind. Leon acknowledged to himself that for years now, while urging Tim McGee to take this or that promotion and/or move, he'd always been a little relieved when his agent refused to budge from Gibbs' team.

"The Southwest office has several resident agency offices that report to it. For the most part they are 3 agent offices with an SAIC in the lead. There are also several 2 agent offices and we've recently changed a few of their command structures from reporting to the Southwest office SSAIC to individual SAICs. You'll be leading one of the offices with 3 resident agents, including yourself, with a remote resident office with 2 agents also reporting to you. Now, there's more detail which is outlined in the folder I'll give you before you leave."

Seeing McGee's wide eyes, he smiled, "Breathe, Tim!"

To his dismay, rather than helping his agent to relax, the younger man now looked sad. Vance continued. "Normally, I wouldn't share this information but considering you'll be stepping in, I feel you need to know and HR agrees. Friday afternoon, Special Agent Draper, who led the office in question, quit the agency, giving two weeks' notice and left immediately. His record is spotless, no problems there. He's recently married and his husband accepted a job which required his immediate presence overseas. Draper didn't want to wait to go separately and from a human perspective I understand that. From the agency perspective, it left two offices high and dry as far as leadership. A retired agent has agreed to return to work for a couple of weeks to cover the leadership position.

"Having said all that, the office is now yours to lead. You are hereby promoted to the rank of SAIC. That rank has a range of authorities and pay grades and I'm placing you in the top of the mid-range, meaning your next annual review could potentially push you into the top percentile. Before you leave the office, I'll give you a folder with more information about the offices and their stats. I know they're online but there are some notes from Joel Morris, the SSAIC over Southwest, and me that are not online.

"As of now, you report directly to me and the MCRT is off rotation until a new SFA is found. Other than completing your reports as the arresting agent for the serial killer, you're done with the MCRT. At least this one. I do want your input as far as selecting a new SFA. One of the things I've noticed in the past few months is that although Gibbs participates in investigations, you've been managing the team. Before we continue with the nuts and bolts of you moving, any questions?"

Tim nodded, "Yes sir. I understand this will be a transfer, is there anything in the transfer package for spouses who also work for the federal government? And as far as the team, I recommend that Bishop be removed from the MCRT going forward, so Gibbs will need another junior agent as well as a Senior Field Agent. Torres will be a good one but he's not quite ready."

"I'll pass your question about Dee onto your transfer coordinator, who'll be in touch with you either later today or in the morning. She's preparing your transfer package now and will bring it up before you leave. As for Bishop, while technically it's no longer your concern, I agree with you. Do you have any recommendations for either spot?"

"Chalmers, the TAD on O'Brien's team. From what I've seen, he could step into the SFA spot, he's got the experience and I think would like to continue working aboard the Yard. I'd also recommend Piro, Fuller or Special Agent Watson from the Norfolk office for the SFA spot. Piro and Fuller are excellent agents and are familiar with Gibbs. The team has worked with Watson a few times and, in my opinion, he's also ready to step up."

Reaching forward, Vance gently patted Tim's shoulder, "Thank you. Now, it's time, Special Agent McGee, to let you fly on your own. I know you're ready and despite the circumstances, I think this is the perfect spot for you. If you have any questions for me, give me a call anytime. Although I'd appreciate you keeping an eye on morning and evening hours. One of the perks of having teenagers is that they sleep late on the weekends, which means I can, too."

Tim smiled at that, trying to imagine his 2 ½ year old toddlers as teenagers. The best he could do was to envision his son and daughter with their current pint sized bodies on long stretchy legs, like cartoon characters. He blinked away the image, he needed sleep!

Before he left Vance's office, the director gave him the folder with the handwritten notes and the transfer coordinator brought his transfer package up and was introduced to him. She assured him they'd soon be well acquainted. As tired as he was, he was curious about the package; however, back at his desk, he resolutely tucked the thick envelope in his laptop case, zipped it up again and treated himself to an elevator ride down to the parking garage.

He was home within 15 minutes, realizing that as early as it was, he was alone in the house. The twins were at daycare and Dee was at work. He sent her a text that he was at home for good reasons and that they needed to talk. Hungry, although he knew he'd eaten lunch, he scrounged through the refrigerator, finding some leftovers that looked edible. Indulging in a rare cola drink, he forced himself not to inhale his food or beverage. He was just finishing when he had a reply from his wife with several happy emojis and telling him she could talk now.

With a smile, he called her and when she answered, he said, "Buckle up, Fielding!"

He got a laugh out of her for that, "What's up?"

"I've been promoted to an SAIC and given my own office. In southern California."

She was at work so couldn't exclaim loudly but he could tell from her voice that she wanted to, "Sweetie, I'm so proud of you and so happy for you, for us. Uh…."

He chuckled, "Yeah, that's what I said. Our transfer coordinator said she'd look through the various rules and regs but I also thought you might want to run this by Avery. My report date is the 1st, you and the kids could come later."

"Oh no, you're not ditching us, mister! I'll talk with Avery before I leave tonight. Do you know exactly where?"

"Yes, the office is in a town called Playa Vieja, outside of San Diego. I have to live within an hour's drive."

"Okay, yeah, I remember that. Is that the only reason you're home?"

"Nick and I busted the serial killer case, arrested the guy. He's in lockup."

"That's huge, Tim, congratulations! You said you and Nick, where were Gibbs and Mystique?"

Amused at Dee's nickname for the team's troublesome junior agent, Tim said, "I'll tell you when you get home. It's quite interesting and you'll want to be loud."

"Uh oh. But you and Nick caught the guy, yay!"

"Yes. Honey, I know I'm home, but would you mind picking up the kids? I'm feeling an adrenaline crash starting to creep up on me."

"Sure, go sleep. We'll talk more tonight."

They disconnected, Tim starting to wobble a bit and knowing the longer he and his wife talked, the later she'd have to stay at work and he was anxious for her to talk with her boss.

Mentally planning his week, he thought there were probably a thousand things he'd need to do. However, he also wanted to do something fun with the twins, maybe take them to the water park if he could find another adult to go with them. As bright as they were, Johnny and Morgan were still toddlers and needed supervision, especially around water!

Drinking a bottle of water, he managed to kick off his shoes and change out of his work clothes before he crawled onto his bed.

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He woke with a smile when he felt smoochy kisses and little bodies on top of him. Morgan whispered, "Daddy, you need to wake up, Johnny and I are home! Mommy picked us up."

He whispered back, "I'm awake, Angel Cake. Where's Angel Pie?"

Half on, half off his father, Johnny sat up, and giggling, announced "I'm here, Daddy!" in a loud voice. Tim wrapped his arms around them as he stood up, his babies squealing and laughing. Still holding them, he walked into the family room where they smelled something delicious cooking in the kitchen.

Calling out "Ready or not, here we come!" the three of them peeked into the kitchen, finding Dee laughing at them. Tim put the kids down so he could kiss his bride. She grinned, "Hello, my name is Delilah Fielding McGee. And you are?"

He laughed, "Timothy McGee, ma'am, at your service. It's always a pleasure to meet a smart, thoughtful, beautiful and loving woman!"

She pulled him to her for another kiss while the twins ran to the family room and their toys. Over dinner, roast chicken with assorted vegetables and mashed sweet potatoes, Tim got caught up on his children's doings with their mother, their grandmothers and Grandpa Charlie, who'd been for visits in the past month, at daycare and a really fun visit to Victoria and Davey's house! That was the Palmers. Davey was Victoria's little brother, 2 months younger than the twins. Jimmy and Breena became his foster parents when he was 6 months old and his adoption had been finalized a few months ago. "Aunty Breena let us help make cookies, we got to help Uncle Jimmy pull weeds, we played school with Victoria and Davey and Granducky read us stories!"

"Wow, that sounds like a fun day!"

"Daddy, are you done with the big work?" That was the phrasing he and Dee used for anything at their respective agencies that pulled either away from home for longer than usual.

He smiled at them, gently tweaking their noses, which made both giggle again, "I am, yes, sweeties."

"Yay!" The two bounced up and down.

Other than adding in her own adventures with the twins, Dee didn't say much; she and Tim would catch up after their babies were tucked in for the night.

After dinner and cleanup came family play time before the children's nighttime routine: Cuddles, which Tim and Breena saw as segueing into 'calming the kids' time, baths, more cuddles with stories and then bedtime.

Once Johnny and Morgan said their prayers and were tucked into their toddler beds, their parents left the room, leaving the ceiling fan on as the house was still a little warm and the door open enough to hear them if they called. The McGees also continued to use a baby monitor that tied into their watches.

Retreating to the living room, the couple cuddled together on the sofa and Dee made a point of inspecting her husband. He was upset about something, it could be the perp, sometimes they found out more about the crimes committed during the bust and that usually upset him. But it seemed more than that. She decided to give him more time to absorb everything.

"I talked with Avery this afternoon and he's fine with me working from a DoD office in or near San Diego. I'd still report to him, just work a different shift. He called it a double transfer, only mine would be a lateral, and said he'd talk to our HR and have them contact NCIS' HR. I gave him the name of your transfer coordinator, Audrey Jeffers."

"Good, that's great news! I haven't had a chance to start putting together a list of what we need to do. I guess one of the first things is deciding what to do with the house."

"Oh Tim, let's not talk about that yet, please! First, tell me everything about today, from the start. I know you're upset about something."

Pointing to the large manila envelope on the coffee table, she asked, "Is that the transfer package?"

Tim took a deep breath. "Yes, it is. Delilah, I know I'm exhausted and yeah, there were more victims than we knew about, but I'll be as serious when I'm rested as I am now. If Vance hadn't told me that I was being transferred, I would have asked him for one today, off of Gibbs' team."

She winced at that. She knew Jethro had pulled away from the family but now her husband began to tell her more of his problems with his boss, whom he'd once considered a father figure. Although they'd grown closer over the years, when the two of them emerged from their captivity in Paraguay they were essentially father and son and when the twins were born, Jethro cried when he was asked to be one of their grandfathers and he'd personally decided he wanted to be called Poppy, the same grandfatherly name used by Tali DiNozzo for him.

However, over the past several months, since the reappearance of Ziva and her various crises, Gibbs had withdrawn from the family. When the twins asked where Poppy was, their parents told them he was busy or that they didn't know. On several occasions, before and after that disastrous evening when Gibbs kicked him out, Tim had asked Gibbs to visit the kids or asked to bring them to Gibbs, but the response, when there was one, was negative. After that evening, McGee was never again called Tim and the affectionate nickname Boss, along with Dad outside of work, became a thing of the past.

Their Gibbs-Mallard Thanksgiving had been held at the Palmers this year, the Saturday after the real holiday so that those with traditional families could celebrate with them first. While Gibbs and Ducky had been invited to the McGee Thanksgiving, Ducky accepted while Gibbs never responded. However, he did show up for the extended team holiday dinner at the Palmers.

After that, Delilah decided her husband needed a break and made plans for her family to spend Christmas in Chicago with her mom, known as Grama Liz to the twins. Her dad flew in from his home in Arizona and rented a hotel room where the McGees spent Christmas Eve with him and Christmas Day with Liz.

Back home again, they celebrated a third Christmas with Tim's surrogate mother Lu, Grama Lu to the twins, and the rest of the Baltimore family on New Year's Day. In the meantime, Dee quietly packed away the gifts the kids made for Poppy and the gifts she and Tim had for him.

Now she wondered why she hadn't seen this coming. Beside her, Tim continued to talk, "I don't want to work like this anymore. Now that I'm leaving, I feel like there's a chance that someday we might be close again but I know better than to expect anything. With Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you're fine as long as you toe his line, meet his expectations and are in front of him. If you leave, you're as good as dead. Tony hasn't heard from him since Gibbs' thank-you card for the present they sent him for his birthday, so early September."

"How do you feel about leaving the team?"

"Relieved, excited and sad. I didn't even have to tell Vance about our problems. I guess that's not so strange, Gibbs hasn't said anything directly to me in weeks, just shouts orders for the team and always partners with Bishop. Which is a relief to me; however, I don't trust Bishop and I'm not sure he'll realize if she starts to pull any of her crap."

He took a sip of his iced tea. "Anyway, this morning Gibbs and Bishop went off to some location she said she found and I searched her laptop and found the information we've needed all along. She's had it since the first crime scene!

"After Torres and I busted the creep, Vance told me to come see him once we did our preliminary reports – and to bring the reports. He's never before asked to see them before Gibbs does. He also said that Torres and I are off on comp time until next Monday. And then he told me about the transfer, my predecessor is already gone. He's a newlywed, his husband got a new job overseas and he didn't want to work out his notice, can't say as I blame him. So Vance hands me the job, says they have a retired agent covering the office for a few weeks. Audrey, our transfer coordinator, brought this up to his office before I left there."

"Oh geez, Tim. I'm so sorry things are ending this way. I hope you're right, that after you leave your personal relationship with him will recover." She poked at the envelope, "Have you looked at all the information yet?

"No, I barely stayed awake enough to get home and call you. And I thought we could look at it together."

She grinned, "Great!"

They moved back to their dining table, made by Gibbs as a wedding present, and Tim waited to see where Dee would position herself. Once she picked a spot, he reached in and pulled out a large stack of papers. Shaking his head, he said, "I hope we don't have to know every single thing in here!"

She laughed, picking up a two page summary as Tim sighed in relief.

By the time they'd been through the summary and were looking at the checklist, he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. With a laugh, Dee tucked him in with kisses, telling him she was taking Thursday and Friday off. He had a smile on his face as he let himself fall into sleep.

He woke early enough the next morning to make love with his wife before they heard the twins chattering to each other. And so their day began. Knowing her husband still needed time to decompress, Dee decided to take the kids to daycare today. He was looking forward to spending tomorrow and the rest of the week with his children, once he'd had more rest.

She suggested he ask Lu if she'd like to go to the water park with them on Wednesday. Malu, as Tim, his siblings and friends called her, short for Mamalu, hadn't seen her babies in a couple of weeks. She still managed the homeless shelter the McGee children stayed in when they were growing up. One of the key staff left recently, leaving her with additional responsibilities until she found a suitable replacement. She'd called last week, telling Dee she'd hired someone and would love to come for a visit. Looking at the time, Tim realized it was too early, Malu wouldn't have time to talk until after 0900, when the shelter closed for cleaning. Then she'd be off duty.

Getting out of bed while Dee was in the shower, he helped the twins clean up and get ready for breakfast. They didn't dress them until after they'd eaten and washed up. It was a habit Tim formed when he first started working in an office. With only two shirts suitable for work, he didn't put one on until he was ready to leave for work. If he spilled or otherwise messed up the shirt of the day, he'd have to wear his other shirt, still damp and wrinkled, or a t-shirt to work.

While he made breakfast, the twins sat in their booster seats, watching him. When they realized he was making one of their favorite breakfasts, banana pancakes, they cheered. Finding another banana, he made another big pancake for his wife. Her face lit up when he handed her a plate. "Ooh, thank you honey! We're lucky your daddy's home to make us breakfast, aren't we kids?"

They both nodded, thanking him. When they finished, he whisked them off to clean up, brush their teeth and get dressed. With their crazy schedules, he and Dee split kid duty in the mornings. If the MCRT didn't have an active case, Tim took them to daycare. Otherwise, Dee would take them and Tim liked to get them ready. With as many mornings as he had to leave early or hadn't made it home the night before, he savored each moment of taking care of his children. It was much easier than taking care of toddlers Sarah and Rob all those years ago!

Once Dee and the twins left, Tim cleaned the kitchen and changed the sheets on the beds. After putting a load of laundry into the washing machine, he gathered the stack of pages from the transfer package, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table.

By 0930, he'd made a list of 40 things they needed to do to prepare to move, including deciding what to do with their house and transferring bank accounts. He sent a text to Lu, asking if she was available to talk, receiving a reply saying she was on her way to a routine doctor's appointment and would call after. There was another text that said, "It's Tuesday, are you home and why? Will you be home in 2 hours?"

He answered saying yes he was at home, case closed, and yes, he'd be home in 2 hours. Then he sent a text to someone else, smiling when he received an immediate reply. He selected the contact info and waited until the call was answered.

"Probie, is everything okay? Why are you calling during the day on a Tuesday?"

"Solved a big bad yesterday, got a confession and locked the dirtbag up. Vance chased us out for the week, we've been on the run with this for over a month, weekends, late nights, all-nighters, you remember."

"I do but he never gave us the whole week, we were lucky if we got the rest of that day! Huh, you said Vance, not Gibbs. Boss would never do that."

"Tough, he wasn't there."

"He'd already left?"

"No, Torres and I solved the case, did the interrogation, the arrest and booking. Gibbs was still out chasing whatever with Bishop when Vance told us to go home. Have no idea what happened after we left. I came home and slept several hours."

"Mm, do I detect additional signs of discontent?"

"Oh yeah, one of the reasons I called. It's the same crap Bishop pulled last year, knowing Ziva was alive and telling no one."

"Considering the ensuing mess, I'm not likely to forget that, my friend."

"She's still pulling crap like that as well as conducting some sort of special training with Ziva's mystery landlady."

"Don't know much about that individual but I do know she's got a fierce reputation. Fiercer than Gibbs and even some of our Israeli friends."

"Know with whom she has the reputation?"

"With the person you named earlier and uh, friends from earlier times."

"I'm sorry, Tony, is she there? I didn't even think!"

"No, we're not together. I'm afraid to trust her with Tali, afraid she'll decide Tali will be safer in her crazy world, training her to do the same work she did. Our daughter and I are not living on the run, hiding around the world and I do not want to be forced into anything the way Gibbs was. And as you know, she's always got 'one more thing' to take care of. When she wants to see Tali, she does, with my supervision. I don't trust her not to take Tali and run, not after she's threatened to do just that."

"Wow."

"Yes. Enough about her, you strayed from my question."

"Ok but one more thought about you and Tali. Maybe you should move back here where we can help protect Tali." Tony made a noise and Tim nodded, continuing, "This is going to sound whiny. Do you remember how Gibbs used to be? Even more closed-mouth, never spoke unless forced to? Was almost openly hostile to just about everyone?"

Tony snorted, "Used to be? You mean he's changed?"

"Yeah, for a few years. Seemed like he made an effort after you left. With new teammates, Torres, Quinn and Reeves. Then Quinn left, Reeves died and Gibbs was, I hate to use this word because it hardly describes his behavior but some people might have said that he was mellowing. I'd say he was beginning to act like he didn't wish he could just work by himself or that he disliked everyone around him."

"And then…"

"Then he and I got closer, he gave me his watch, one from his family, at our wedding. He even had it engraved to say 'Breathe, Tim'. You know, I told you about that. And then he agreed to be Poppy to Tali and the twins. We didn't know we were having twins, but we asked him to be Poppy to our child. After Paraguay, I really felt like I had a dad again. Well, Tali wasn't after Paraguay, that was as soon as he met her. Sorry, I'm all over the place.

"My point is that he and I have been growing closer since, I don't know, I guess since he offered me your spot. I never expected that. While I knew by then that he had some use for my skills, I was blown away when he said he hoped I'd step up to SFA. And we did okay, although it was easier when there weren't so many people in the bullpen, although I don't mean to denigrate Reeve's death or Quinn's mother's illness. I could talk with Gibbs, tell him my opinion, make recommendations for the team and he listened to me.

"But that's gone now. He's back to being as miserable as he was years ago. He doesn't ask about the twins, he turns down our invitations to dinner, for the holidays. The one time I took the kids over, he threw us out, threw me out, the kids were upstairs. And calling me McGee, the night he threw me out he made a point of saying his name was Gibbs. I don't know what I did wrong but I'm done."

"Tim, you probably didn't do anything wrong. Is his health all right?"

"Mmm, not sure about that. He seems tired all the time. His new knee is working fine so no more pain there and he hasn't gone back to drinking like he used to, at least he's not showing up to work with booze breath or worse. But he has been acting strange. For all that he doesn't want anything to do with me or the family outside of work, he does let me manage the team. And sometimes I think he's confused, like he won't remember a reference to a case or something we did."

"How does he look?"

Tim took a deep breath, "Kind of old. I think it was Paraguay, they hurt him so much." He sighed, "I know it's time to move on and that's why I called. But I only want to leave the team, not him personally. Does that make sense?"

Tony made a noise, "Exactly how I felt. Maybe have a talk with Fornell, he might know more."

"After I've left the team, yes."

"Yeah, good point. So, leaving the team…"

Tim told him what had transpired in Vance's office yesterday and Tony cheered, loud and clear. "Tim, that's awesome! I'm so proud of my probie!"

Both men were smiling when they finally disconnected, although Tony felt a little sick when he thought about Gibbs without either of them. This would truly be the end of an era, when Tim left.

Even thinking that, Tony knew it was the right thing for Tim. He'd spent his entire career, nearly 17 years now, working with Gibbs. Being TAD'd up from Norfolk for Gibbs' team that first year, followed by his transfer to the team. Then a year as a probationary agent, nearly 10 years as a junior agent before Gibbs bumped him up to a senior and then the last 4 years as the team's Senior Field Agent.

While DiNozzo knew from his consults with the NCIS European offices that Gibbs' MCRT was legendary, both of them should have left years before they did. Tony hadn't been ready to leave when offered Rota but he should have taken it anyway. He'd had other offers from other sources and turned those down too. And Tim, well, he'd had several offers over the years, rejecting each of them.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Tim spent the rest of the day doing a variety of things. Keeping in mind that it would be warm again today, he spent the rest of the morning working in their front and back yards. The front had groundcover, no lawn, so no mowing was needed, but he did clip the dead stems and blooms from the daffodil and tulip bulbs, making the whole flower bed look much better. The iris bulbs had sprouted and he felt sad when he remembered Gibbs saying last summer that he'd help him separate them after they were done blooming this year. He'd said otherwise they'd take over the whole yard and would be very difficult to remove. He made a mental note that if there was time, he should either do that himself or hire someone to do it. They'd planted 30 iris and this year there were, he counted, more than 50 of them. Yes, they needed dividing!

There were also two rosebushes. One had been a housewarming gift from Liz, his mother-in-law, and the other Gibbs brought over from his garden because he knew it didn't have any scent and they could plant it closer to the path to the front door than the one Liz sent them. That way it would look balanced and Tim could avoid an allergy attack or worse, an asthma attack, when they were in bloom.

Tim looked at the plants, deciding they'd take both with them and plant something else in their place before the house went on the market. That hurt to think about, too, after all the work Gibbs, Tim and his Baltimore brothers, Bill the carpenter, Freddie and Joe the plumbers, Barry, the cop who'd helped with the grunt work, put into making this place a truly accessible home for Dee.

Still, they had plenty of photos of the house in progress, from taking the 'For Sale' sign down through the day they finally moved in. And they weren't leaving the guys behind, they'd come visit for holidays with Malu, she'd make sure of that and if necessary Tim would help with their airfare.

It was leaving Gibbs behind that made his heart ache, as distant as the man had been with him, with his family, since last fall. He'd been so upset the night Gibbs told him to leave, feeling guilty for not waiting for an answer to his text and hurt by his last remark, that he'd considered giving him back the watch. He kept it, he was an adult and knew that when Gibbs had it engraved for him and put it in his hand, he'd meant it, his actions, his words, his feelings had been real. He'd continue to treasure the watch and the memory of the good feels.

Finished with the front yard, he moved to the back where there was a lawn. He quickly mowed it, it wasn't that big, before the temperature got any warmer. Then he did some weeding, clipping off more dead blooms and bulb stems. He looked in the raised beds and smiled at the late spring/early summer veggies they'd planted the weekend before the team landed the serial killer case. They were doing fine. He hoped they'd be able to enjoy some of those before they left!

Looking at the tomatoes, he grinned, it was time for their cages! Digging those out of the garage, he carefully shoved the metal legs into the dirt, making sure each branch of each plant was supported and would grow up inside the cages.

Remembering he was supposed to feed them when he put the cages on, he did that and then sat in the shade in his favorite chair, a bright blue replica of a 1950s shellback metal chair with a small table matching the design and color. Although most of his childhood memories had been wiped out by the traumatic brain injury he'd suffered when he was a boy, he had a fleeting memory of a bright red chair that looked just like this one, only he was pretty sure the red one had been authentic.

He returned to the house to refill his water bottle and ended up with iced tea instead. Outside in his chair again, he drank most of his tea and then sat back to relax for a few minutes. When he woke 90 minutes later, he was hungry.

Back in the kitchen for lunch, he first pulled out the slow cooker, taking frozen chicken from the freezer, slicing potatoes, adding chicken broth, a little tomato sauce, frozen diced onion bits and some of his favorite spices in the cook pot. Then he added the chicken, adding a few other ingredients on top. He set the timer to add more vegetables and a few other things, setting the slow cooker to high so their meal would be ready for dinner.

Then he made a sandwich, happy to find the avocados that were rock hard last time he was home, he thought that had been either Friday or Saturday, were nicely ripened now. Adding one to his sandwich, he'd use the rest for their dinner once it was finished cooking.

After he ate, he worked on his latest manuscript for a couple of hours, finally making some progress before realizing this would be his last Deep Six book as a member of Gibbs' MCRT. He shrugged, he knew the characters well enough, he could keep going. While Tommy, Amy and Lisa were no longer featured characters, Ellie, Nick, Kasie and Jack Sloane were now included, with the character names they'd personally selected: Thea (Ellie), Kalmin (Nick), Saffi (Kasie) and O'Malley (Jack).

Despite no longer being an active character, Tommy managed to show up in every story and Amy had made a brief visit as well. Lisa's death had occurred between books as Tim could not force himself to write the real life pain and loss he'd felt at Ziva's death, now known to be a lie, into his books. He'd dedicated his last book to her, identified as ZD, and Clayton Reeves, identified as CR as well as other lost friends.

When he got as far as he wanted, he saved the chapter onto the hard drive and a memory stick before exiting his word processing program. After the fiasco with his 2nd book all those years ago, when Landon Grey stole the typewriter ribbon he'd used to write his book and then murdered two people he believed were the characters in the story, Tim had started writing on a separate laptop with no internet connection. When he was done writing for the day, he moved the entire document(s) onto a memory stick, labeled it and then deleted the manuscript from the laptop. The device was kept locked in a safe in Dee's closet, where it was buried under her many, many pairs of shoes. He made a mental note that when they moved, both that safe and his gun safe needed to be removed and taken with them. The memory sticks were stored in his gun safe.

He shook his head as he walked through the family room, noticing his 'To Do Before Moving' list still sitting on a table. Thinking of this house made him think of having to find another accessible house for Dee. He started to go online to look at what might be available but didn't feel like signing up or going through all the other rigamarole the real estate sites wanted just to look. Besides, Audrey, their transfer coordinator, would assign a relocation agent who would do the searching for them. What he could do now to help was make a list of what they'd either had, brought in or built in here. Walking through each room, he made a list, with the kitchen and bathrooms having the most items. With the warm weather in Southern California, a pool would be nice, too, which meant a transfer chair for Dee.

Deciding he'd better check their finances before making a 'wish list', he checked their joint accounts and what he called his authors' accounts. When the twins were past infancy, he'd started writing children's stories under a third penname and they were well accepted. He'd hoped they would be as his children loved them. With Gemcity still going strong, when he had time to write, and a resurgence of popularity for his Zubin Cai books, written in his teens and early 20s, he had a good sized nest egg tucked away in case of emergencies. Although they had life insurance, he wanted to personally provide for his wife and children. He knew that was probably due to his own father's lack of naming any guardian for his children, and their subsequent abandonment by their stepmother.

With Dee's understanding of his almost obsessive need, they'd made a list of 16 guardians for their children, starting with Gibbs, Dee's mother Liz, Dee's father Charlie, Tim's surrogate mother Malu, Jimmy and Breena Palmer, Tony, Dee's friends Jen and Leah, Tim's brothers Geordie, Rob, Bill, Barry and Joe, his friends Rick and Denise Carter, Jim and Annie O'Brien and Leon Vance. They left Ducky off at his request due to his age and both Abby and Tim's sister Sarah asked not to be added. Nor was Tim's Baltimore brother Freddie listed, a kindness to him as he was seriously shy and introverted, only able to succeed in the plumbing business he owned with Joe because Joe did all the talking and dealing with people. It wasn't so hard now that they had a business manager, but it had been tough on Joe in the beginning. Malu and the others had pitched in to answer phones and schedule appointments for them until the business grew enough to support staff.

Tim thought about that. He'd talk with Dee but he hoped to leave the guardian list as it was. He knew Gibbs was good with children and, whatever had gone wrong between Gibbs and him, he still trusted that Gibbs would raise the twins with love and care. Maybe they'd add a codicil in case Gibbs became unable to raise them.

Sitting again, he looked online for any hint of accessible housing in the San Diego area. There were plenty of apartments but unless it was a penthouse or a single unit building, Tim wasn't interested. Although a penthouse apartment would be fine, as long as there was a generator for the elevator in case of power outages so that Dee could enter or exit safely and outdoor space that was safe enough for the kids and maybe a pool. He laughed at himself with his delusions of grandeur!

When his phone chimed, he smiled at the caller ID, Malu. "Good afternoon, how did your appointment go?"

"It was fine, Timmo! Are you still home?"

"Yes, we closed a big case yesterday after spending more than a month on it, so I have the rest of the week off, compensatory time!"

"Wonderful! Do you have plans?"

"I crashed most of yesterday and I've been working on the yard and doing some writing today. And laundry and, you know, things that always need doing. Since I needed more sleep today, the twins went to daycare. However, I was wondering if you'd like to come over and go to the water park with us tomorrow?"

"I'd love to! What time?"

"Mid-morning. Why don't you take the train in and we'll pick you up?"

"Good idea! It'll be easier to take the train, if you don't mind retrieving me from the station. I'm glad you thought of it. I'm used to making multiple stops when I'm over there, thus needing the car."

"I don't mind at all. I'll bring the kids, they'll love seeing you and the trains. The park opens at 10:30, why don't you aim for an arrival time of 10, then we can go straight there. They have plenty of changing rooms and I'll bring lunch and afternoon snacks. Bring lots of sunscreen! Oh and Malu, plan to stay for dinner, actually why don't you stay over?"

"Oh, yes, Timmo, I'd like that, thank you! I can't wait to see all of you." She chuckled, "I know it's only been a few weeks. Dee's not going?"

The water park they liked best had a large pool with transfer chairs so kids and adults in wheelchairs could be lifted out of them and transferred to the pool. That particular pool was restricted to those who needed the chairs and their families or whoever they'd come with. Dee's chair was also allowed into the wave pool, which she loved. One time she'd talked Tim into carrying her onto a raft to take them down the 'Lazy River' and that had been fun too.

They'd purchased a specially designed 'floaty' so Dee could safely be in the water. While she couldn't do traditional swim strokes, she had fun using her hands and arms to paddle around and said it helped her to feel that she was really swimming. Tim had blanched at that but considering everything and how hard it was to deal with things like the lack of ramps, the rudeness of people who routinely took blue card parking spots, aircraft without accessible restrooms, the popularity of stairs, restaurants too crowded for wheelchairs and everything else, he got it. Because he lived with her and saw how much extra time and effort it took to plan simple things like going shopping or to a water park, he understood that. However, unless he too lost his mobility, he'd never fully understand what people with mobility problems went through on a daily basis.

Answering Malu's question, he said, "No, she has a meeting she's had scheduled for months and it's her meeting so she didn't want to postpone at the last minute. She's taking Thursday and Friday off, so we'll have a long weekend together."

"Oh good! Would you like me to take the children overnight?"

"Mm, how about a rain check? I've been gone so much I think we need to stick with the four of us this time."

"All right, let's plan for it. Although that always depends on your job."

"Eh, we can work around that, at least for weekends!" He shook his head, he was talking as if nothing had changed yesterday, as if they'd still be in Virginia! He'd tell her tomorrow, this was too big to tell her over the phone.

The two talked for another few minutes before disconnecting.

Waiting until the twins would be awake from their afternoon naps, Tim collected them from their daycare, where they all waved goodbye until Monday morning. Taking them home, the three of them played in the backyard, the kids and their daddy running through the sprinklers he set up. He and Dee had talked about buying a "Slip and Slide" for them but since the safety ratings started at age two, they'd researched and decided to wait until the kids were a little older. Now watching them on the lawn with him, Tim thought they'd be fine with the sprinklers while they were still here and that way Dee could also have fun with them.

All three cheered when Dee appeared in the doorway to the backyard, home from work. "Ooh, save some water for me, I want to play too!"

She joined them a few minutes later and the four of them had a great time playing. When Tim's watch alarm buzzed at him, he grabbed a towel and after wiping his legs and feet, wrapped it around him as he walked into the kitchen to add the last of the ingredients to their dinner, still in the slow cooker.

After their dinner, which turned out well, they played outside again until it was time to start the kids' nightly routine. Tonight, they had a special treat, cuddling on Mommy's and Daddy's laps outside on their glider swing while Daddy told them a story. By the time they went inside for their baths, the twins were fairly mellow.

After they were asleep, Tim and Dee retreated to the family room where Dee spotted Tim's 'To Do' list and grabbed it. Reading through it, she made a face, they had a ton of things to do and had already lost a day!

One of the great things about the new location was that there were many DoD employees there. Dee said Avery didn't have any new information for her today except that he'd spoken with their HR transfer coordinator. She was now working with Audrey at NCIS to sort it out.

Another great thing about the new location was that Dee's dad, retired Marine Colonel Charlie Fielding, lived in Northern Arizona, with only a few hours' drive to San Diego. Dee smiled when Tim estimated the drive. With a chuckle she said, "It will be nice for my dad to be so close, after having to fly to Chicago from wherever he was posted to see me when I was growing up and then to the East Coast when I moved here for college. And Mom will have farther to travel than she does now."

Tim chuckled, "You know what? From Chicago to San Diego, she'll be traveling the same amount of time Charlie travels now to get here from Arizona!"

They laughed at that, then Dee asked Tim about Malu and his siblings. He smiled, "I'm sure Malu will visit and she'll persuade the others to come, too. Rob plans to move home from London, so we'll see him and if Geordie ever appears, he'll visit too. I doubt Sarah will move back to the U.S. anytime soon. Tony and Tali will visit, I'm hoping they'll come for Christmas. And I bet Ducky will persuade the Palmers to visit, maybe we can all go to Disneyland together."

Dee grinned, "That's right, it's not far from San Diego."

"And the ocean's right there, lots of beaches. I think we'll have plenty of visitors. What about Jen? And Leah?"

"Oh, they'll come! I didn't say anything today, thought we should wait until the timetable is firmed up. We know when you have to be there but not me and the kids."

Tim nodded, "Been thinking about that. I made a list of everything we'll need for an accessible house and as soon as we're assigned a relocation agent, I'll get the list to them. It might take awhile to find what we need. With 30 days of free housing, I'm thinking I might need to go ahead by myself, maybe ask our moms to stay with you. Then I can get the process started to find our next dream home."

"I don't like you leaving without us but that seems like the most practical way to do it. How about asking our parents, three of them anyway, to stay for a week or more? My mom and dad can each stay two weeks, Malu maybe 10 days so she won't have to use all her vacation." Dee rolled her eyes, "Malu can stay between my mom's visit and my dad's so there won't be any chance of them seeing each other."

Closing his eyes, Tim nodded and Dee rubbed his back, knowing he was thinking about not asking Gibbs for help. He sighed before saying, "What about Ned Dorneget staying for a few weeks? You and the kids like him and I know he's not thrilled about where he's living now."

Dee nodded, "That would be good for all of us and yes, we do like him. He and Tony are like the brothers I never had, only in very different ways!" They laughed at that. Tony was definitely the older, more sophisticated and somewhat mischievous and protective older brother while Ned was the more trusting, less likely to tease or prank, younger brother.

When Vance called, they were a little surprised but pleased when he wanted to know Dee's reaction to moving.

Dee smiled, "I'm excited, sir! I've spoken with my manager about a possible transfer to San Diego. I have no idea how that would work. Our HR transfer coordinator is now working with yours."

Vance chuckled, "Great, that's one of the reasons we have Human Resources staff! Before I get sidetracked, I wanted to let you know that with Dee's physical needs, your family is eligible for 60 days housing, up from the normal 30. The DoD started doing that a few years after the ADA became law and have kept it due to the continuing scarcity of existing accessible single family homes. If a double transfer works out, you might have 120 days."

Tim smiled, "That's a relief, sir! We were trying to figure out helpers here so I could go early, get the housing search started."

"Your coordinator should be in touch with you tomorrow with information about your relocation agent. And she or he can get right on the ball. Do you have any questions for me? About the area or California in general?"

Tim huffed, saying, "This is going to sound trivial and silly, but are there restaurants that serve shellfish? I don't like fish."

"Oh, yeah, I envy you the food in San Diego. I understand about the fish; however, there are plenty of seafood restaurants that offer shellfish."

"Good, thanks!"

"Great! Now the office is in a town called Playa Vieja, the population is around 40,000, a family oriented community north of San Diego. Tim, you can live anywhere within an hour's commute from the office. Dee, I'm assuming you'll be working in one of the DoD offices in or around the city. However, I'm guessing you don't have the hour's drive restriction?"

"I don't think we do, sir. I'd never heard of it until I met Tim."

"That'll make the location a little easier."

They talked a little more about the move and then Tim asked the question he'd wanted to ask since Monday.

"Sir, sorry to bring up work but I'm curious as to Gibbs' and Bishop's response to the bust."

"Ah, yes, Gibbs and Bishop, interesting. Gibbs hasn't been in touch?"

At Tim's head shake, Vance continued, "They had car troubles that neither could fix. And then both phones died and neither had a phone charger with them. They left the car where it broke down, took their go bags and hiked back to the last town they'd driven through, about 7 miles. They were able to get rooms there and called in. The town they were in is a solid three hour drive from here. Dorneget drove out early this morning to get them and we hired a flatbed to tow the agency car back. Ned texted about 1500 that they were back, they ran into construction traffic on the return trip. I'd given him permission to tell them about the bust. He said Gibbs just grunted while Bishop had no response, just looked out the window the whole time. I left orders for them to go home and for Bishop to take the rest of the week off and Gibbs to come in Thursday morning. I'll brief him on the case and tell him then of your promotion and transfer."

He took a breath, "Timothy, I'd like you to meet with your new boss, SSAIC Joel Morris, before you report to your office."

Tim said, "Yes, sir. Is my report date the end of May?"

"No, we pushed it to June 1st. That's a Monday and gives you Memorial Day here. Keep in mind that all you'll have to pack are your clothes and whatever you want to take on the plane. Another reason I'm saying June 1st is that Pam looked at the SecNav's schedule and she's flying to Japan on Thursday, the 28th. When she flies to Japan, they usually stop in San Diego for a break. Otherwise they have to layover in Hawaii for more hours and that adds more time onto the flight. That's a long winded way to tell you that you can fly to California with Secretary Porter, Pam has already confirmed that they're laying over in San Diego." He added, "You won't have to worry about excess baggage, odd shaped packages or anything like that."

"Wow, that's great, Director, thank you!"

"You're welcome, I'm glad to do it! Although she generally works on those flights, she also enjoys chatting with whoever is flying with her. Don't have to dress up, business casual is fine, nice jeans are all right and shoes, no flip flops and no shorts. Oh and they'll serve you breakfast."

Tim laughed, "Sounds great! We'll be too spoiled to fly commercial ever again!"

"Copy that! With your arrival on Thursday, you can meet with Morris on Friday. All right, that's all I can think of for now. Congratulations again!"

Disconnecting, Tim and Dee quietly cheered, both excited about their new adventure.

They were about to start working on their 'To Do' list when Vance called again. "Sorry, just had a call from HR, the DoD has agreed to a double transfer. That means some changes in the transfer package. The two HRs are working on it together, it'll be ready by tomorrow afternoon. I could drop it off on the way home if you'd like?"

Tim looked a question at Dee who nodded, leaning forward to speak into the phone. "Director, why don't you come for dinner, bring Kayla and Jared?"

"Yes, thanks, I'll do that, although I'll be on my own. The kids both have plans. Thanks for saving me from another night of takeout or worse, my own cooking! See you tomorrow!"

When they calmed down again, they made a list of everything they needed to do to get ready, including telling their families. Tim thought about telling Gibbs in person and was halfway to convincing himself he should do that when Dee stopped him. "Honey, let Vance tell him and then you can try to see him over the weekend."

Tim was reluctant to agree, considering it was Gibbs' team he was leaving. Then he forgot about the whole situation when his wife took his hand and pulled him up, leading him to their bedroom. After they made love, he had one fleeting thought before he fell asleep, that this was the first time they'd had sex twice in one day since the twins' last birthday when someone took them somewhere.

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Dee was already in the shower when he woke the next morning. She said she was a little excited about her meeting but mostly, as she told Tim, "I'm excited about our new adventure!" The big grin on his face told her he agreed.

The kids woke when she kissed them goodbye. They were a little drowsy until Daddy reminded them that Grama Lu was coming today. Then he told them they were going to the water park with Grama and him. That woke them up! The three of them ate their breakfast, cleaned up the dishes and the littles helped Tim as he pulled out the recipe he wanted to use for dinner, hauling the slow cooker out again, planning to simmer black beans with onions and various spices all day. Once he had them in, he took a cut of beef from the refrigerator, where it had had all night to thaw and put that on top of the black beans. By late afternoon, the beef would be falling apart, the beans, which had already been marinated, would be flavorful and he'd put them together with the rest of the ingredients for the dish.

After that, they put their bathing suits on with shorts and tops over them. They brought extra towels for drying off, applied sunscreen, found their sunhats, sunglasses, underwear and sweaters for later and were on their way to pick up Grama!

They walked into the train station about 2 minutes before Malu's train arrived and when the train came in with the whistle blowing, Tim was glad the children were in their stroller. They were very excited, bouncing up and down. He smiled, he didn't remember the whistle blowing before. They were even more excited when they saw Grama getting off the train and Tim got them to her as fast as possible, before they climbed right out of the stroller.

Lu kissed her grandbabies before kissing her Timmo. She looked at the look on his face and grinned as it reminded her very much of him as a 10 year old who'd gotten an "A" on a difficult test. Knowing she knew that something was up, he smiled, "I have a lot to tell you!"

"Good things?"

"Yes!"

"Wonderful!" She held up a finger to him, looking at the twins and saying, "Morgan, Johnny, did you hear the train whistle blow?"

"Yes, Grama, it was awesome!"

"Good!"

Tim looked at her, "I don't remember that happening before."

She smiled a little smugly, "They don't normally, only by special request."

"Ooh, Mamalu, you are truly an awesome grandmother!"

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Grama had also worn her bathing suit under her clothes so once they were at the park, everyone had a potty break, applied more sunscreen and then they went for a walk to decide what they wanted to do first. On a Wednesday morning with school not yet out for the summer there weren't many people there. Because it was only mid-May, the water would be heated. Getting in would be an adventure but once they were in, the water would be warm.

The twins decided what they would like to do first and were happy when Daddy agreed. While they were playing in the water, Lu said, "I thought I'd fix dinner for everyone tonight, if that's all right."

"Sorry, not tonight! I've got dinner in the slow cooker, we're eating Mexican food tonight!"

She looked at him, "Who else is coming?"

He laughed, "My boss."

"Gibbs? Oh, that's wonderful, Tim. Then something's changed, you two have worked things out?" She looked at him and frowned, "No?"

"Not Gibbs, Vance."

"The director is coming for dinner?" She narrowed her eyes, nearly hissing at him. "You said you had a lot to tell me."

He whispered, "The kids don't know yet."

She made a face, "Timmo, you big tease! Now I have to wait until they're asleep and they've given up their naps, right?"

"Mostly. Maybe they'll take a rest this afternoon."

She shook her head at him, trying not to laugh. Talk about bad timing!

A few minutes later, when the kids were still within easy reach in the water but chattering with the kids around them, Tim whispered, "There will be more news tonight, from Vance and Dee will know more, too."

"That's…both of you? Whatever the something is involves both of you and your director. So at least one of your jobs is changing and…I don't want to guess."

"Good because it'll be more fun later."

She rolled her eyes at him and then splashed him, laughing. Knowing they weren't supposed to splash water at each other, Johnny turned around, "Grama, we're not supposed to do that!"

"You're right, Johnny, I forgot! Sorry kids, sorry Tim."

Despite Malu trying to figure out what was going on, they had a great time at the park. By mid-afternoon, the kids were flagging and the four of them sat in the shade to dry off. Once they weren't dripping anymore, they retrieved their belongings from their lockers, pulling out the extra towels to wrap up in for the way home.

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Home a little after 1530, the kids were tired and cold, so Daddy and Grama gave them quick baths, rubbed them down and had them rest for 'a few minutes'. As no one said the word 'nap', the kids didn't fuss and were sound asleep within 5 minutes.

Tim and Malu sat in the living room with fresh coffees and Tim grinned, "I'm being promoted and transferred and last night Dee's boss approved her transfer, too."

"Congratulations, son, you deserve it!" Malu gave him a congratulatory kiss. "To what and to where?"

"I'll have my own team, with additional staff and two additional agents off-site who'll report to me and my title will be SAIC, Special Agent in Charge. The where is a town named Playa Vieja, California. I'll report to the field office in San Diego. My new boss is named Joel Morris and he reports directly to Leon."

"That's wonderful, I'm so proud of you! Isn't that, your new boss…isn't that what happens now?"

"Yes but that's because we're working at agency headquarters. Now I'll have my own team in my own office, not a bullpen in a squad room full of teams but my own agency office! And my own office within that office."

"Ooh, I'm impressed! How soon are you leaving?"

"May 28th, the Thursday after Memorial Day. And check this out, we're flying with the Secretary of the Navy! She'll be on her way to Japan but they'll stop in San Diego first. Air crew is only allowed to fly a certain amount of consecutive hours, so they reduce those by stopping in San Diego for a few hours."

"A private flight, oh, how fun! Will you have to work on the flight? Or the kids use their church manners?"

Tim shook his head, "No, Vance said the Secretary likes to have company aboard with her and not to worry about the kids or dressing up or working."

She chuckled, "I wondered if you'd have to wear a suit and tie!"

"Nope, have to wear shoes, no flip flops but otherwise it's business casual." He took a breath, "We'd like you to come for Thanksgiving or Christmas – or both. And stay as long as you like."

Her eyebrows raised at that. "What about Liz and Charlie?"

"Charlie's only got a 2 ½ hour drive to San Diego, so he's not likely to stay too long when he can come back anytime. And Liz will miss her friends and her social life and she won't want to be there when Charlie is and vice versa."

Lu chuckled, "Is Dee going to make them continue scheduling their visits?"

"Yes, it works great and reduces stress for my poor wife. So what I was thinking about Christmas is the guys could come, too. I'm hoping Rob will be home by then."

"Oh, I'm sure he will be. Have you told him? He might want to apply to a hospital near you."

With a grin, Tim nodded, "I sent Sarah and Rob a text this morning."

"Good! Tim, what about Gibbs? You two have been so close…"

"We were close and I'm hoping once we're not working together anymore, especially with me having been his second in command, that we'll be able to work through things. Although I still don't have a clue what those 'things' are."

"What did he say when you told him? Or have you?"

"No, he was out of the office when I left Monday and didn't return any of my calls, although I've been told since that his phone wasn't working. He and Vance will meet tomorrow and the director says he'll tell him then."

She nodded as Tim continued. "Mom, I need to tell him myself, before Vance does. We've worked together for nearly 17 years. That has to be worth something! At least a trip to his house and a few words in the basement. Even if he throws me out again, at least I'll know I've given him my respect, gratitude and affection."

She smiled while pulling him in for a hug. "Then go, now, before the traffic gets worse."

He straightened with a smile. "All right, I'm going!"

Grabbing his car keys, he nearly ran out the door – in his flip flops, still damp cargo shorts and a Grateful Dead T-shirt, a joke gift from Dad for Tim's birthday the year the twins were born. Gibbs loved the Dead while their music was not Tim's favorite. However, he treasured the T-shirt.

Tim was on E. Laurel Ave. within 8 minutes, probably a personal best for him. He hoped the man wasn't asleep. If he was, he'd wake him up, after all, he was already risking the wrath of the bear just being here.

The door was unlocked and he found Gibbs in his lair, again sanding something. "Gibbs."

Gibbs looked up and nodded, "McGee. Good job on tracking down and busting Crandell."

Despite himself, Tim felt hope coursing through him. "Thanks. I found the information we needed on Bishop's laptop, in her notes from canvassing the witnesses at our first crime scene."

Gibbs' face went blank and he closed his eyes. "How many bodies since then?"

"Four and even more before, civilians. Nick set up the search and recoveries, all over the country, before we left Monday. It'll be interesting to hear how many open and cold cases can be closed now, how many murders added to our charges, how many families and friends will at least know what happened."

Gibbs nodded, "Those four ours?"

"One Navy, one Marine, the other two were civilians."

Gibbs shook his head. "She had no idea where we were going or what information we'd find, this was after 2 hours in the car. I tried talking to her and she started sprouting gibberish at me, I'm guessing from her special training."

Tim nodded, waiting for more but that was apparently it. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Vance will tell you when he sees you but I need to tell you myself. After nearly 17 years working with you, it feels right that you hear this from me first. I've been promoted to SAIC in the Playa Vieja, California, office, starting June first. We're leaving here the 28th."

Gibbs swung around and stared at him, just stared without saying a word. Tim thought it might be the first time in months the man had really looked at him. Finding it hard to swallow and not to throw his arms around the man who'd been his dad for so long, Tim managed to say the words he'd wanted to, "Boss, I've learned so much from you, all this time. Thank you for everything you've taught me, everything you've shared, it's been an honor to work with you and the others on the top team of the agency. I hope you'll find a new SFA soon and wish you the best." Then he waited a few minutes but when Gibbs still didn't speak, he finally said, "I have to go. We have company for dinner and we spent most of the day at the water park, I…just wanted to tell you myself."

Turning around, he started to walk up the stairs but stopped, turning around again and taking a deep breath. "Gibbs, whatever went wrong between us, it won't matter in the long run, I believe we can work it out. Whatever happened or didn't happen, I'm sorry if I took too much for granted or did something out of line. When you're ready to talk, call. When you want to see your grandkids, Dee or me, get your ass on a plane. We'll be there. We'll always be your family no matter what, we're always going to love you."

He turned away as he walked from the stairs into the house, nearly choking out, "You'll always be my dad."

He cried all the way home and then sat in the car, in the garage. He felt better for having personally told Boss the news. And he felt worse because, despite the nearly 17 years of knowing better than to expect anything from Gibbs, except for the few years they'd been family, he'd still hoped for more. He'd hoped that Gibbs would somehow channel the guy who'd given him his dad's watch, had it engraved for him and then verbally told him about it, who'd held Tim's newborn children with a big grin and tears running down his face as he introduced himself as their Poppy. Who'd hugged him tight the first time they saw each other after their return from Paraguay. Who'd done everything he could, taken everything they threw at him, to keep Tim alive in Paraguay. Who'd sat with him in the hospital after Dee was blown up, while she was in surgery and again the day she'd fainted and after he himself fainted, when they learned they were pregnant. Damn it, he was not letting him go, would not let him fade away. He would keep fighting until the man verbally told him to get lost. And he would not let go of those memories or any other good memories.

Climbing out of the car, he finally noticed what he was wearing and mentally shaking his head at himself, no stress here, HA!, hurried into the house to change, grateful the director wasn't here yet. He nodded to Lu as he entered, thanking her for watching the kids. She looked at him and he gave her a wan smile. "I did and said what I needed to do and say. Stupid me, somehow my heart expected what my brain knew was not going to happen. What is that saying, 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.'?"

She nodded, "I believe that's credited to Einstein. Timothy, you're a good man, a wonderful human being. Gibbs is also a good man but he's badly damaged, apparently too damaged to let himself be happy. Honey, he has personal demons, you know that."

He huffed, "As if no one else does."

"Maybe that's part of his problem, he can't fix everyone or everything. Maybe he realized that when Ziva showed up. Never mind himself, he's given up trying to fix his own problems or at least given up trying to come to terms with them. You can't fix him, Timothy. Yes, I know that's not what you were consciously trying to do, you wanted a dad and he liked having a son, grandkids and a daughter, a family, and it worked for a while. Then something disrupted whatever shields he'd set up against his demons and he can't get back to where he was, where he was Dad, Poppy and Boss. Maybe Boss is the only part of him he's safe or comfortable being right now." She watched her son's face, keeping her own feelings well hidden.

Tim didn't say the name aloud but he knew who had destroyed Gibbs' guards. Ziva, when she'd accused him of abandoning her and led him on her merry way through terrorists and God knows what else. And maybe he and Tony had been part of the shields that had been blown away. He was afraid they'd never be rebuilt. He wanted to whine, scream, cry and kick something. Instead, he swallowed his hurt and anger, adding ingredients to the slow cooker while Mamalu had a shower. When she was out, he went in and woke the kids, who'd slept for an hour. That was enough, otherwise they'd never get to sleep that night.

Taking them outside, Tim chased them around the yard, the kids screaming in glee. By the time they turned around and started chasing him, he was smiling. Then Lu watched them again while he had a shower, putting 'the Director is coming to dinner' clothes on.

Dee came home shortly after and after kissing Lu, the kids and Tim hello, went to change her clothes. Tim joined her, quietly telling her he'd gone to see Gibbs, to tell him he was leaving. She looked up with a smile, "I knew that was bothering you, thought you might. How did it go?"

He told her what had happened and what had been said and not said. She nodded, "I'm so proud of you! I agree that our best bet is to keep him informed, in touch with us whether he wants to be or not. Send him photos, texts, cards. And yes, let's not give up on him!"

She pulled him down, giving him a very hot kiss. He groaned, his mother was here and his boss was on his way. Patting his butt, Dee uttered an evil laugh as she rolled away.

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When they emerged from their room, Grama and the twins were setting the table. They'd very carefully picked some of their flowers, putting them in a pretty vase on the table. Now they were stacking the plates on the counter. Malu looked up, "We didn't know whether you'd want to serve from here or at the table."

"Here is easier, I can clean up the mess as I go."

"Are we having wine, beer?"

Dee smiled, "Mexican, right? It just so happens we have several bottles of Corona in the refrigerator."

Malu grinned, "And I know where the glasses are."

For most of his adult life, Tim had not been a beer drink. Until Dee and Jethro persuaded him to try some of the craft and Mexican beers. After that, he was on board with beer, although he never had more than one glass of anything alcoholic. Too many years surrounded by drunks at the transient camp took care of that.

Some time before Tim's discovery of beer he liked, Gibbs had given him, as a joke, a set of 6 beer glasses, only they were labeled, 'iced tea' and 'lemonade'. When he started drinking beer, those glasses had disappeared to be replaced by beer glasses labeled "Dos Equis". The 'iced tea' and 'lemonade' glasses eventually reappeared of course but Tim appreciated the tease, now a family joke.

Vance arrived a few minutes later and the group had beverages outside before sitting down inside for a convivial dinner. Lu and Leon had met a few times but didn't know each other well. That started to change when Vance asked her what Tim was like as a child. Tim winced, Lu laughed and Dee just grinned. Keeping in mind that Tim was 9 years old when she first met him, she told some sweet, some sad and some funny stories about him, throwing in a couple of Timpa stories. Timpa was the name Sarah and Rob called him when they were little and the name stuck until both 'kids' went off to college. Even now, when both were in their 30s, they were apt to call him Timpa when troubled about something.

After they finished, Leon insisted on helping Lu and the twins clean up the kitchen. In the meantime, Tim and Dee began to go through the new edition of their transfer package. Both vaguely remembered similar packages from their transfers from Norfolk to the Navy Yard for Tim and from DC to Dubai for Dee. However, at the time, neither had homes to sell or many belongings to move. Dee had had clothes, shoes, books, kitchenware, her new bed and other items that made her new life as a paraplegic safer, more comfortable and a little easier.

In 2004 when Tim was transferred from Norfolk to the MCRT, he had four folding chairs and TV trays, two airbeds, one mattress, clothes, shoes, books, one sauce pan and lid, one skillet, three knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls and coffee mugs, a spatula, one big bowl and a Melita coffee cone along with a few mementos of his childhood prior to the hit and run that killed his father and brother Patrick. Sarah had already moved into the dormitory at Waverly so all her belongings were gone, leaving only Rob and Tim's personal items.

He'd asked Human Resources and they gave him a cashier's check for the minimum a moving company would charge. With that, he paid Bill, Freddie and Joe to drive their truck and van to Norfolk, pack everything into their vehicles, with a few things in his old Ford Fiesta and transport it all to his new apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland. He was nearly as excited about his huge new apartment where he and Rob would have an actual bedroom as he was about his new job!

Tim reminisced about that as he and Dee went through the package, Lu nodding along as she remembered the move. "I met you at the apartment, helped put your kitchen together and hung your clothes up. The boys and I found a used bureau for you and went in on it together. It would be a surprise for you, as well as the table Bill made for you and they'd dropped both off before they drove to Norfolk that morning."

Tim smiled, "I was so excited about the place and then finding Bill's table and the dresser, that just about did me in. I still have both."

"That old dresser?"

Tim laughed, "Yes, that old dresser. Go look in the twins' room! Jethro fixed the drawer slides and the drawers that were falling apart. He and I stripped it to bare wood, took off the old-fashioned decorative paneling and then primed and painted it for the twins. That 'used' dresser you bought me is solid oak, whoever gave it to the thrift store hadn't taken care of it and did a shoddy job of trying to fix it," he laughed, "looked like something I would do. Anyway, with Jethro's fixes, it'll still be in good shape for Johnny and Morgan's grandkids. And the table is in their room, too. Bill was going to shorten the legs but I asked him to save the original legs and put shorter legs on. He also put a faux top on that can be removed when the kids are older. Right now, they use it to paint, color, play with clay, all kinds of fun, messy stuff."

Lu kissed the top of his head, "Do you ever throw anything away?"

That caused several minutes of laughter from Dee while Tim just rolled his eyes. He finally said, "Yes, but only when I'm forced to or I finally believe something can't be fixed."

Dee snorted, "I have Jethro to thank for several of those items!"

Leon asked when he'd started to collect the record albums. "I got started on the record albums while I was still at MIT. Larry Porter and his wife Cyndie, he was one of my professors and advisors and they're still good friends, had a record collection. I'd go over to their place to escape Sarah, a story for another time, and listen to their Jazz and R&B as well as the albums from the 20s through the 60s. I fell in love and for any gift occasions after that, they'd either give me an album or a gift card to our favorite music store in Cambridge. I had 12 albums when I moved, I remember counting them."

"How many did you end up with?"

"39. I had 40 but loaned one, an autographed album, to Ducky who lost it." Tim laughed, "I'd borrowed his golf clubs and somehow managed to destroy them. So we called it even."

"Do you still have them?"

Tim and Dee smiled at each other, it had been one of their most successful collaborations. Except for the twins, of course. "No, when we moved into the Georgetown apartment, there was clearly no space for them and no place to safely store them. We recorded each one, scratches and all and then Dee and I took professional grade photos of the covers, front, back, interior, plus the vinyl itself. Then we sold the albums. The Porters bought several of them, which made me very happy, Jethro and the O'Briens each bought a few and the rest we sold on eBay and a collectors' site. The proceeds helped us buy this house."

Leon was impressed, "That's a great way to preserve them for yourself."

Tim gestured to his wife, "It was Dee's idea. Eventually, we framed the photos and have been planning to put them up in my office and the family room. Now I'm glad we never got around to it, means fewer holes to patch in the walls."

Lu tilted her head in thought, "What about the metal bookshelves? I don't remember what you did with those."

"Two of them are holding Gibbs' projects, supplies and tools in his basement. A few more are in Ducky's garage, holding what he calls his flotsam and jetsam. The other three are in Freddie and Joe's office or garage, holding either office or plumbing supplies. Oops, no, the plumber boys have two, I forgot Bill took one for his workshop."

"None for Barry?"

Dee, Lu and Tim laughed and Lu explained, "No, Barry remains a minimalist, he doesn't need any extra storage. And now that the boys have been in mainstream society for a couple of decades, Barry's decided to only buy what he loves or the best. Which is, I suspect, the reason he's a minimalist!"

Eventually, Leon thanked them again for dinner and the company, they thanked him for delivering the new transfer information and said goodnight to him. Lu played with the twins until it was their bedtime, a little early tonight after their fun day, then she said her own good-nights.

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Dee and Tim were still deep into the transfer information, making a list of things they needed to do, calls to make, people to notify. Tim finally looked up at Dee, "I haven't even asked what news you had today! Or was it too soon?"

She grinned, "That's all right, I thought you were waiting until we were alone. And no, it was not too soon. What the HR people at both agencies have worked out seems equitable to me. Leon was right, we'll actually have 120 days to find a place to live. The folks who handle my health, living, working and transportation costs with regards to my Gala injuries insisted we'd need 120 days, in case our new home needs renovations. Both NCIS and the DoD said yes and each kicked in 60 days apiece, with a review at 90 days to make sure we're on track."

Tim was relieved to hear that, although he knew they had the funds to remain in temporary quarters if necessary. "Yay!"

"That's what I said! So, I'll have a desk and equipment in the DoD office closest to wherever we live and they'll also set me up to work from home, as we've done here. My boss asked if you and I would have separate home offices again and I decided the right answer would be yes. So that's another item on our 'have to have' for the relocation agent. I may end up working off shift sometimes, start earlier to match East Coast times, but that won't be routine and on those days, I'll work from home."

"Great!"

"There's a slight increase in salary, to adjust for cost of living. It's hard to believe it would be more expensive than here but they showed me the figures. It works out to less than $100 per month. I think that's about it. The Powers That Be don't see any need to tell any of my overseas contacts that I've moved. They'll send out something that says I've changed to a later shift. My phone number will remain the same. Oh, they did ask when I'd report for work. I told them June 8th. I'll be home, or wherever we're staying, with the twins our first week there, which will be easier for them. We'll need to find a daycare for them."

"A temporary daycare, yes, I thought of that. But if we find a house in Playa Vieja, maybe it won't be temporary. Anyway, I'm glad you'll be off, I know we'll be stressed and that'll give us time to settle in, see the area and view any houses our agent finds that week."

She grinned, "I'm so excited! Let's call my mom and dad tomorrow!"

"Yes!"

"How about asking my dad to come up for a week or so, to stay with the twins my first week at work? Even if he had them for half days and they were in daycare for half a day, that would really help."

Tim nodded, "I think that's a wonderful idea! And we can pay for his room."

She rolled her eyes, "We can but he can afford to pay. It doesn't have to be the same place we're staying, although that would be nice."

They decided to make all the calls about the transfer tomorrow morning, giving the movers, relocation agent and whoever else time to get started. They'd send out two emails, one to Liz and Charlie and the second one to Tim's family, including Tony and Gibbs. That way they could include open invitations, pending the online calendar, to Liz and Charlie and ask Tim's family to join them whenever they could, especially for Christmas.

For now, remembering it was three hours earlier in California, they sent an email to their relocation agent, introducing themselves and telling her a bit about their family. They let the woman know they'd need an accessible one story single family home in a good school district and within an hour's drive to the Playa Vieja office, including the address. They said they were making a list of what they had now and would need in their new home. Copying Tim's HR transfer coordinator on the note to the relocation agent, they sent the HR person a second email, letting her know what they'd need as far as temporary quarters.

Realizing once again that they'd also need to sell or rent their home, they rolled their eyes at each other and then dug out the business card for the agent who'd helped them buy this house. They'd liked the man and he'd done a stellar job finding them a place that could easily be renovated to suit Dee's needs and negotiating the price. They sent the realtor an email telling him of their transfer and the need to sell the house. He wrote back within 30 minutes, thanking them for contacting him and asking if they'd be available to meet with him Thursday morning, he'd come to them. That made things easier and they agreed.

While they were still going over their lists, they had a response from their relocation agent. She thanked them for jumping right in by contacting her and asked them to send the list of requirements so she could get started that afternoon. Tim sent it to her right away, with a video of Dee and him working together on a recipe in the kitchen. Barry filmed it shortly after they'd moved into the house, wanting to capture all the extra cabinet, countertop and work space that Dee was working in while Tim had a standard height countertop that he was working on. They also sent a photo of the four of them playing in the backyard last summer, the flower garden and raised beds with tomato cages visible in the background. Poppy snapped that shot on Father's Day the year before.

Once they'd done that, they started shutting down for the night, knowing the next few weeks would be insanely busy. Tim would finish his reports for the serial killer case, check his email, would have access to his new office's email and he thought Vance might have some work for him to do but otherwise, his job would be managing the move with their coordinator. Other than the next two days, Dee wouldn't have much room in her schedule for days off before they left for California. She could manage going in late or leaving early, although that was more difficult, but whole days would be next to impossible.

With a grin she told her husband she didn't mind if he handled the whole thing, it would drive her crazy. He grinned, kissed her and they headed off to bed.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Lu woke up thinking about her grandbabies and their parents moving to San Diego, feeling excited and sad. She'd already promised to fly out for Christmas and stay through New Year's but before that, there would be 6 months with no twins to cuddle or play with, no Timmo or Dee to fuss over. Oh sure, she'd see them online and that would help but she wouldn't be there in person for their birthdays or Thanksgiving. She made a face, she needed to take some time to consider all this.

Thinking that Tim and Dee would be busy with the kids and the transfer this morning, she planned to take a bus to the train station and had the schedule and route planned out. However, when she joined the family for breakfast, Timmo looked at her pleadingly as Dee said, "Would you mind staying another day, please?" The younger woman rolled her eyes, "Something's come up at work that can't wait, of course. I can handle it from here but we have a real estate agent coming this morning and other things we need to put in motion."

Tim grinned, "Our relocation agent in California sent us some leads last night so we can do virtual tours and let her know our likes and dislikes. I think these aren't meant to be houses for us but just to get a better idea of what style we like and all that. And the moving company representative is coming this afternoon."

Dee nodded, "Would you mind doing all that with Tim? I trust you and he and I aren't that far apart in our tastes."

Lu nodded, "Of course, I'm happy to stay and to help in finding your next home! I do have one condition though."

When her kids looked at her she smiled, "That you have dinner out tonight, the two of you. Or go to a movie, do something by yourselves as a couple. The kids will wear me out and I'll be sound asleep by the time you get home."

None of them were too worried about noise as the guest room was on the opposite side of the house from the master bedroom. Dee leaned over to give her a hug and kiss, "Thank you, you're the best!"

After breakfast, Dee kissed the kids, explaining that she had to work but would be at home so would see them at lunchtime. And that their grama was staying again today and they'd have her all to themselves for dinner, baths, cuddles and stories. The twins were happy, it was a special treat for them, too.

Delilah disappeared into her office while Tim cleaned up the kitchen, with help from the twins. They were all dressed and ready when the realtor arrived. The twins and Lu said hello before they headed to the backyard to play. It was cooler this morning than yesterday, so they wore long sleeved shirts and took sweaters out with them. The realtor, whose name was Brad, shook his head, "I can't believe how big they are!"

Tim smiled, "Oh yeah. It's sad they won't remember this house but we have a lot of photos."

He gave Brad a tour, bypassing Dee's office which was a mirror of his. The man took several photos of the kitchen, focusing on all the accessible add-ons, including double shots of the oven door opening down or sideways, the open areas for a wheelchair to roll closer to the counter, the multi-level countertops and everything else. "This is wonderful, the best example I've ever seen of what accessibility should look like! Have you had it appraised since you moved in?"

"Yes, after all the work was done. I pulled that for you."

Brad was as impressed with the bathrooms, Dee's closet and everything else they'd done to make her life easier and safer. Tim frowned, "I hadn't thought about it, but we'll be taking all our appliances with us, kitchen, washer and dryer, etc."

"You said you're leaving the 28th?"

"Yes. And with the amount of time it took us to find this place, we've already started looking out there."

"So everything will be here until you find a place to live."

"I guess so."

"What would you think of putting everything into storage, and letting us stage the place, once you've left? Storage will cost you, you could price it out here and there, see which is less expensive. It'll help me sell the house faster, which will help you with your budget for the new house. I have to tell you, Tim, selling this beauty is going to be fun!"

Tim nodded, thinking aloud. "I know the move includes 30 days free storage. If the rates are less expensive out there, then we might as well move everything when we leave." He shrugged, "We may very well end up in an apartment until we find something suitable or if we have to wait to have a place renovated."

"And if we sell the house for the price I'm thinking, unless it's more, that will help you with your next purchase and/or renovations."

Tim closed his eyes for a minute, envisioning the move in his mind. "So the movers pack us up while we're here and then we leave. We stay in temporary quarters while our stuff arrives and goes right into storage, at the moving company. When we're ready to move into an apartment, if we have to, then we can have some things delivered. If we're able to move right into a house, then everything moves from storage. Ok, that works."

The tour continued into the front yard, Brad approving of the low maintenance landscaping, then the garage where he noted a couple of things and out into the backyard, where he took many more photos. The kids were playing with a big ball on the lawn while Lu stood by the raised bed, her sunhat full of early cherry tomatoes. They'd grown the plants from seedlings indoors until they were sturdy young plants and could be planted outdoors. If there was frost or heavy rain in the forecast, they had covers they could put over the entire bed. Freddie and Joe had helped with that, using PVC pipe for the structure holding the cover off the plants.

Back inside, Tim gave the realtor a copy of the appraisal done after the renovations and the man nodded. "Market's gone up, the buyers will have to have another appraisal done. Here's what I think our asking price should be."

He wrote a figure on a piece of paper and showed it to Tim, whose eyes nearly fell out of his head. Brad chuckled, "Accessible houses are rare creatures and there is always a need for them. In addition to everything already being in place here, including accessible gardening, it's a perfect location. Good school district, diverse neighborhood, well-kept without being stuffy or restrictive, no HOA, quiet, low crime rate and an excellent location for commuting into the District, either driving or taking public transportation." He laughed, "You sure you want to move?"

Tim's smile was a little strained as he nodded. "Yes, it's time."

"Two more things, I spotted all the security cameras, are you taking those with you? And will someone be living here after you leave?"

"We haven't decided whether we're taking the security cameras or not. If someone wants to pay for them, they can stay here. As far as a caretaker, we've been talking about that. At first we thought I'd go ahead and Dee and the kids would stay here with our family and friends rotating in and out to help and for security. Now we're thinking we'll all go and ask one of my friends to stay. He's not happy where he lives now and he's also a federal agent. Obviously he'd have to bring his bedroom things with him and a table and chairs, TV. What if he stores the rest of his belongings in the garage?"

"Yeah, that would work as long as folks can still see the lift and how big the garage is. And we'll put a note on the MLS that there's a caretaker who needs to be given 60 minutes notice for a showing. As long as his bed is made, it'll be fine. And the guest room is the same size as the kids' room, which will help prospective buyers envision the space."

Tim was thinking, "We're taking the appliances with us…well, we'll think of something and talk with the moving company. I haven't even talked to my friend about it yet. We've only told a few people."

"All right, next question because people ask this all the time, are the window coverings going or staying?"

"Both. The living room and dining room windows aren't standard sized and we had to special order those. We'll probably take the drapes from the master bedroom and the kitchen slider, we had to look for months before we found what we both liked. My mom made the kids' window coverings, so they're going with us. We'll probably leave the guest room curtains, the windows are the same size as the kids' room. So we're leaving living room, dining room and guest room."

"Great, the price just went up! Living room and dining room drapes are a royal pain to replace. What about yard equipment?"

Tim shook his head, laughing, "My snowblower can stay here, unless one of my brothers wants it. We'll eventually have a yard out there so I'll need everything else."

"Ok. Mm, this sounds strange, but once we have a buyer, it would be great if you could send a list of what's planted where in the yard."

"Oh sure, you can have a copy of our maps. We have all kinds of spring and summer bulbs so people will need to know those aren't weeds popping up."

"You have maps of your yard?"

Tim shrugged, "We had irrigation put in underground and needed to know where the lines and emitters were so we wouldn't break them when we were digging and put new plants close to the emitters. And I like maps so I made a map. By the way, the 2 rosebushes out front are going with us, for sentimental reasons. We'll plant something else in their place before we go. Also, the entire yard is irrigated, there's a rain sensor so the water won't come on if it's rained in the last X number of days. The new owners can set whatever number of days or hours they want."

"Wow, this is amazing!"

"Our first house. First time I've lived in a house in many years. It's been a lot of fun." Tim laughed, "Now that we know what we're doing, it should be even more fun!"

After the contract was signed and more photos were taken, the realtor left. As Tim straightened things up, he remembered buying the house, planning the renovation and finally moving in. If it hadn't been for his dad, he would have been up a creek without a paddle any number of times. He remembered the times they'd worked together, making the house perfect for Dee and the kids. He sat down at his laptop and wrote a note to him, telling him what memories were popping up as they prepared to move and how much he missed him. He saved it into a new folder titled Dad. When things were better, he'd print whatever he'd written and give them to the man. He hoped that would be soon. While he was still a bit angry over everything that had happened, or not happened, mostly he was sad. And he really missed his father, there was so much to tell him. He was sure Dad would have wanted to be involved in the move and thinking of that, swallowed hard, doing his best to ignore the feeling of abandonment. He'd told Dee he believed Gibbs was ill, had been ill since Ziva's return and he wondered if the attacks and the runaround had triggered the man's PTS.

He shook himself out of his funk. Although sad at leaving, he was excited about having his own team, in their own office, and promised himself some time to think about that. Maybe that was part of the problem with Gibbs, at least at work, that as SFA, Tim was ready for his own team? Maybe he'd gone overboard with managing the team? But then wouldn't Boss have said something, rather than Dad pushing him away. He shook his head, he didn't think whatever was wrong was something he could help fix. He, Tony and Dee would have to be supportive without direct contact.

The representative from the moving company came by shortly after the realtor left, listening to the plan and agreeing with the realtor and Tim that it would be easier to move everything at once. "Otherwise, you'll be ready to move into your new place or have moved in and still have to wait for your belongings. You'd have to at least rent beds. It's a pain. If you end up not needing everything, we'll bring what you want and after the 30 days, you can move it somewhere else or leave it with us. We keep our rates comparable with our competitors and you'll still qualify for a discount due to the move. That's good for a year."

"That's good to know, thanks."

"I brought boxes with me, you can start packing if you want or leave it all to us. The only thing we ask is that you pack any small, breakable items, like tea cups, china or antiques. We're not worried about liability, it's the time it takes to pack small items."

"All right, we can do that. Then do we need to take them with us or you'll pack them with other stuff?"

"Either is fine. Just remember that whatever you take with you will have to live in your temporary quarters with you until you find your new home. Not to mention paying excess baggage fees for your flight, or trying to cram everything into your vehicles if you're driving."

"Ah, good points, thanks! And no, we're not driving, we're flying, and our vehicles will need to move as well."

"That's fine. If we have room, we'll put them in the trucks. If not, we'll load them onto a trailer, pull them behind the truck."

He looked around, asking a few more questions and made an offhand remark about the kitchen. "My sister-in-law is in a wheelchair, she'd love this kitchen. Accessible houses are very difficult to find."

"I know, we gave up looking for one and instead bought a house, this house, that my carpenter dad and brother said could be easily renovated. Took a few months but my wife absolutely loves it."

"Got it listed yet?"

"Yes, this morning. Here's the realtor's card if you'd like."

The mover nodded as he took it. "Thanks, I'll let my brother know."

After touring every room, the mover said they liked to pack houses the day before the owners left, in their case, Wednesday the 27th, in case there were any last minute changes. "That does mean you'll have to eat and sleep on the floor or somewhere else that night."

Tim nodded, "That's not a problem. What time will you start?"

"Around noon. That gives homeowners time to move anything not going with us. You can stay for a couple of hours, or leave as soon as we check in, it's up to you. The other thing is to have whatever you're taking on the plane out of the main part of the house so we won't accidentally put it on the truck. And we'll need the keys to your vehicles."

"Would the garage be all right for our things? We'll leave our cars in the driveway."

"Mm, tell you what. I know there are things in the garage you want moved. If you put those in the boxes I'll give you today and leave them in the house, then we won't need to go into the garage. You don't have to wrap or neatly pack them, just leave them in boxes and we'll see them. Also, this is an old mover's hack but dispose of your garbage before we get here, otherwise it's liable to get moved to California."

Tim smiled at that and then asked about the rosebushes. "I want to take them with us."

The mover shook his head, "Not allowed to take live plants into California without a lot of documentation and our company opted out. With all their agriculture, they have many restrictions. If you pack them for the plane, leave holes in the boxes and label them as rosebushes. And let your hotel or wherever you'll be staying know that you have them. It might take a few months but eventually you'll have a visit from the State to inspect the plants."

"Wow, I never thought of that or about where we'll keep them until we move again."

"What kind of temporary quarters are you staying in?"

"A residential hotel. Our suite is on the ground floor, I'm pretty sure there's an outdoor space."

"A patio, sure, especially for guests with kids."

"Thanks, I'll find out before we go."

Eventually the man brought boxes in, including several wardrobe boxes, for their use. Tim looked around but he didn't think they had a lot of tchotchkes. He knew they didn't have china or teacups, neither of them had any use for them. Starting their married life pregnant had made a big difference in their wants and needs! They both liked antiques but decided those could wait until their children were grown.

Checking the kitchen cupboards, he pulled out three sets of salt and pepper shakers, several ramekins, and a Waterford sugar bowl and small pitcher for cream, a wedding gift from Ducky. Then he remembered the mother and child figurine someone gave them and a few other smaller items. He wrapped each item in bubble wrap, putting them in one of the smaller boxes. Thinking of all his 'whatnots' in his office, he checked in there, bringing out a few little items from his bookcases. Two miniature oil paintings, three pairs of ceramic bookends and two ceramic picture frames with the kids' photos. While he was in his office, he took all the framed photos from the wall, sorting out those he'd want for his new office, wrapping the rest and better organizing the packing box.

When Dee texted that she was almost through work, Malu reminded Tim of their promise to take some time for themselves. Tim chuckled, "Shows you how much we must need it, that you had to tell us and then remind us! Yes, we're taking a last wander along Mt. Vernon Trail and then we'll have dinner somewhere. We're both off tomorrow so we might be out later than usual. Oh, you're going home, I forgot! What time do you need to be home, you're not working, are you?"

"I'm working the overnight shift tomorrow night. I'll take the bus to the train station, I had it all mapped out this morning!"

Tim gave her a look and she sighed, "Fine. There's a train at 9 and one at 10. Are the twins going for their special program tomorrow?"

He shook his head, "No, we're going to Sandy Point tomorrow. Want to go with us?"

She laughed, "Timothy, the four of you need to spend time together! Thank you but no."

"All right. Who's picking you up in Baltimore?"

"Marla Hoover. She's only working Mondays and Wednesdays now." She was the secretary at the elementary school the young McGees attended, the one who let them store their suitcases with her every day and who often added food and/or clothing to them. Tim knew she was now in her late 70s.

He shook his head. "Malu, don't do that, please? Retire and have some fun, enjoy yourself."

"I will, sweetie, thank you for your concern. Marla only does it to be around the children."

"And you?"

She laughed, "Habit, I suppose. I don't know what I'd do all day if I retired."

He smiled, "As clever and interested in everything as you are? I can't imagine you being bored!" He made a mental note to mention this to Dee.

The couple had a lovely early evening spring wander along their favorite trail, with some spectacular views, before enjoying a leisurely dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. When Tim mentioned his concerns about his mother, Dee smiled to herself, telling her husband she'd have a chat with Lu.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Jethro had a hard time waking up that Thursday, but then he'd only had a couple of hours sleep so he guessed that made sense. Groaning, he felt like crap. Why was he going into the office? He was supposed to be off, damn it! Then he remembered that Vance wanted to talk with him. He frowned, he didn't think he could stand to walk into the squad room and see his bullpen empty, Tim's desk cleared off. Sitting on the edge of his bed, his elbows on his thighs, he put his head down on his fists. He'd screwed up, he didn't know why and now Tim was leaving. Forcing himself off the bed, he took a shower, hoping it would help. It did, a little. By the time he dried off and got dressed, he knew what he wanted, needed, to do.

First calling Vance, he convinced him to meet him at their favorite diner instead of the office. To be fair, he didn't have to work very hard to persuade the man. Feeling a little better, at least he'd have a good breakfast and maybe he'd order takeout for lunch or dinner, he grabbed his keys and left, taking his truck.

Rick's SFA drove the Challenger home from the Navy Yard on Tuesday when Vance decided Gibbs was too tired to drive, but Jethro didn't feel like driving it this morning, not with the twins' seats in the back. He thought about that, he remembered talking with Tim about buying a double cab truck so the kids could safely ride in the back. That was months ago, he remembered they were in Tim's backyard in the shade. It was hot so it must have been last summer. He'd forgotten all about it.

He greeted Elaine with a halfhearted smile as he entered and she frowned. Following him to the back booth, she poured a mug of coffee for him and stood there. "I can see you're not all right, so I'm not going to ask if you are. Is it something that can be fixed?"

That took him by surprise and he had to think about it. Finally, he shrugged, his shoulders slumping, "I don't know."

She opened her mouth to respond but saw Leon Vance walking toward them. She welcomed him, he seemed as relaxed as he ever was. "Do either of you want anything other than your usual?"

They both shook their heads and she left after she'd poured Leon's coffee.

Vance looked at Gibbs. He looked like hell but there were no signs of his having been drinking which once upon a time had been a concern. "Get any sleep last night?"

"Not much. McGee came over, told me they're leaving, moving to California. We…" He stopped talking, he didn't think he could say anything else right now. Then he remembered. "Got a couple of things I need to tell you. First is that the agent I was with on Monday and Tuesday needs to be reassigned to non-field duties, immediately. Not just off the MCRT, off any field team. She's…I don't know what's wrong with her but I no longer trust her in the field."

"In other words, what McGee has been telling you for several months."

Gibbs looked up, frowning. "No, he was concerned about that special training and her playing lone wolf like I used to."

Vance withheld his derisive snort at the "like I used to", he'd like to know when that was supposed to have stopped. "That's what you got out of his entreaties to remove her from the team? After she's withheld evidence from her team on at least 5 occasions?"

Gibbs shook his head, "No, no. I told him I'd take care of that."

"Did you?"

Gibbs blinked and then blinked again. He didn't know, he didn't remember. "I'm sure I did, I told McGee I would. He was bugging me about it."

"Doing his job."

"Sure, sure." Gibbs didn't understand why this was all so murky in his head. But he pushed ahead, wanting to get this over with.

"Will he be back in the office before he leaves?"

"Off and on, yes. He'll be pretty busy getting everything set to put the house up for sale and all that."

Gibbs closed his eyes, fighting his emotions. Vance looked up as Elaine appeared with their food, looking at him and tilting her head toward Gibbs with a frown. Leon shrugged, he didn't know what to tell her except the man was a mess.

He sighed, quietly saying, "Jethro, our food is here. You might feel better with some food in you."

Instead of the eye roll or smirk he expected, Gibbs nodded and gave Elaine a nod, "Thanks. Ok if I order some food to go after we eat?"

"Of course, that'll give us a chance to catch up."

Jethro ate his food silently, enjoying the taste. When he'd finished for the moment, he looked at his boss. "Leon, do you have other things I can do at the agency? Besides the team?"

"You mean instead of the team or along with the team?"

"Instead of. I've thought about it and I don't want to lead a team without either of my boys, without Tim or Tony. It just wouldn't feel right. And this thing with Bishop…" he shrugged, not noticing he'd said her name whereas before he'd called her 'the agent'. "But I'm not ready to retire yet. Not all the way, anyway. Is there such a thing as partial retirement?"

Leon smiled, although he had no idea how he felt about Gibbs giving up the MCRT. Years ago, he would have been doing cartwheels around the office but now, he didn't know. Somehow they'd become friends and with everything they'd been through in the past 12 years, he wasn't sure he was ready to let him go. So yeah, he could work part-time. He said that to Gibbs, who nodded and said, "My recommendation is to leave Torres on the MCRT, he can help the transition. Otherwise, make a fresh start."

"Any other suggestions?"

"Chalmers is a good agent, he'd be good as SFA. Torres will, too, but he isn't there yet."

"All right, another junior? The SSA?"

"There's an agent in Norfolk named Watson, I think. He'd be a good pick for the second junior agent. Tim thought he'd be a good choice for us if or when we had an opening and I agreed. Fuller or Piro if either is willing to leave Carter or O'Brien. Rick or Jim would be great as the SSA but I don't think either of them will want it. I hope you have someone in mind."

Leon smiled and Gibbs looked up in surprise as the director said, "I do and I like the continuity. She's a Marine, in the reserves. She's been with NCIS since she moved to the reserves and is currently leading a team in Great Lakes. I've been looking for a good spot to promote her into and I think the MCRT will do well by her and vice versa."

He took a deep breath, "Jethro, I'm glad you're not retiring outright. I'd miss you. Who else will argue with me? You've kept me on my toes, cost me a whole lot of sleep but it's been worth it. It's been hard enough not having Dr. Mallard around much but losing you and Tim at the same time, I don't think we could handle that. Come in next week and we'll see what interests you. I have a long list of things you might want to do. And then you'll be there for Tim's last days, I'm going to have him work on a few special projects. That is, as soon as he and Torres get through the rest of their reports."

He stopped abruptly as Gibbs pushed his plate away and crossed his forearms on the table, his head down. If he'd started crying or rocking, Vance would not have been surprised. Shaking his head, he reached out to touch an arm. "Jethro, look at me."

It took a few seconds but Gibbs looked up and Vance saw such misery there that he had to swallow a gasp. He shook his head again, "Come with me, I want Dr. Palmer to take a look at you."

"Not sick, Leon."

"Could have fooled me. If you're not physically ill, then contact Dr. Confalone, make an appointment and talk to her. It's been evident to me, Tim and others that something has been bothering you for months now, since Ziva's reappearance." He'd almost slipped up and said attack but caught himself in time. Even though she hadn't physically attacked his agent, now he wondered if McGee's theory was right, that she'd attacked him emotionally and psychologically. "Or maybe since that agent discovered the secret office."

Gibbs looked up, angry now. "Why would she lie to us like that?"

Vance wasn't sure which 'she' he meant, Bishop or David and settled for shrugging, "I don't know."

"She said that I abandoned her! That we abandoned her! After all the attempts to find her, talk to her, everything we did for her, she blames me! She told us to leave her alone, get out of her life so we did and then it's our fault she has no one to turn to? She could have asked for help, she should have trusted us. We already rescued her once, after she tried to force me to choose between her and Tony, when her own father left her to die! You know what happened there, how did she forget that? I don't understand."

But Vance was beginning to. Not former agent David, he had no idea how her mind worked but Jethro. He thought something must have happened with David that triggered Gibbs' Post Traumatic Syndrome. Quickly making up his mind, he pulled out his phone and scrolled through his contacts until he finally found Dr. Grace's number. Quietly, he called and asked her to speak with Gibbs, now, as they sat in the diner.

Mutely, Gibbs took the phone and listened, saying little, finally agreeing to see her.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Tim left the Navy Yard for the last time late Wednesday morning. At Vance's insistence, he'd met with the new MCRT, reviewing open and several old cases and how they'd handled various things, mentioning Gibbs' insistence that they 'shake every branch, look under every leaf' for evidence. When they asked about overnight trips, he advised having their passports and any medication with them at all times as well as their 'go' bags, packing twice as many clothes as they thought they'd need, recommending they include something to swim in as that always helped him relax after a long, tough day. He told them about the 'sleep sheets' they'd learned to carry with them, in case motel beds or whatever they were expected to sleep on were too grody to touch. And boots, to always have hiking boots available, boots they'd never wear outside the job, especially for the trips to Rock Creek Park. They all laughed at that, even Maggie Barnes, the new SSA, as she'd heard from nearly everyone that the park was the dumping/murder ground of choice in the area. Little things like the spare clothing drawer and the air mattresses/yoga mats, blankets, towels and snack food he and Tony had learned to have handy.

Basically, he'd given Maggie Barnes a thumbnail picture of the last 17 years of the MCRT. While it made him sad, it also felt good to talk about his former team and what they'd accomplished, besides packing efficient go bags and being able to sleep semi-comfortably at the office.

During his days at the office, aside from he and Torres finishing their reports on the serial killer case and a few special projects for the director, there had been lunches out with friends, two dinner parties and an office-wide party yesterday. Tim had enjoyed everything although he missed Gibbs. Vance reported he was also taking time off and would return to the Yard, taking up some projects Leon had for him.

Tim had been shocked to the core when Vance told him Gibbs was giving up the MCRT and why. He'd wanted to go to the man. But he wasn't at home and if he was at his cabin, he was out of reach. Instead, he'd called Tony and watched, with some relief, DiNozzo's own shock and dismay.

Tim felt awful until Jim O'Brien took him aside for a quiet chat. Gibbs would have had to give up the field on his next birthday. Vance had signed the waiver 5 years ago but there was no way he'd be allowed to continue in the field once he hit this year's milestone birthday. That information made Tim and Tony feel marginally better but overall, they were sad that it truly was the end of an era and that 'their' MCRT would not be handed down to them as SSA and SFA, as they'd always thought it would be. Still, they were the ones who precipitated the change and as they gradually absorbed the idea of an MCRT without Gibbs or McGee, they began to feel honored that Gibbs, even if he'd chosen not to continue being part of their personal lives, still thought enough of them professionally to give up the MCRT without DiNozzo or McGee.

Dee had also had her share of farewell activities at the DoD, even though she would still be working with the same group, only from a different time zone. The Baltimore family and other friends had gathered for one last barbecue this past weekend. Tim had video chats with his sister and brother in the UK and was happy to hear that brother Rob was applying to Southern California hospitals for his last two years of residency. He hoped to join his family by Christmas. Sarah wasn't sure she could make Christmas but promised to try.

Still thinking about Gibbs, Tim purposely shook off his melancholy as he exited the building and waved at Ned, who was carrying a fresh coffee. He'd see him later as his friend had happily agreed to live in the McGees' home until it sold and he'd moved his belongings over two days ago. The two men had moved everything out of the guest bedroom, then moved his things in and locked the door.

The movers were there today, everything not going on the plane was going into storage in San Diego. With Jimmy's help, they'd dug up the rosebushes and planted low growing, flowering shrubs in their place. Their transfer coordinator confirmed that their suite would have a patio and that the rosebushes could live there until the family left. Pam kindly made sure the bushes would be allowed on the jet. They would be, with some additional instructions to help them survive the flight and how to label the boxes they'd be in so the California Department of Food and Agriculture would be properly informed. Legally, the plants had to be reported and eventually the CDFA would come to inspect them for a myriad of insects and diseases harmful to California's food and wine crops.

The family would sleep at Ducky's tonight. That was closer to the airfield so they could sleep an extra 15 minutes. Tim seriously doubted either he or Dee would sleep at all but thought they'd at least get some rest. In the meantime, Ned would be at the house.

They'd had several offers from prospective buyers but Mitch, their realtor, had advised them not to accept any yet. Although they'd hoped the house would be sold before they left, Tim and Dee trusted the man.

He was nearly home when his cell buzzed with a text from Mitch, "Call me when you have a minute. Have a bidding war going!"

Pulling carefully around the moving van, Tim parked in the driveway and called Mitch. "I'm just home now. A bidding war?"

"Yes, just what I thought might happen. We have 11 prospects so interested they've been upping their offers yesterday and today."

"Who needs it the most?"

"Ah, that would be prospect #4."

"Can they afford their offer?"

"Yes, they're pre-approved and will pay cash."

"Oh! I like that. How soon would we be able to close?"

"As soon as the papers are signed. They asked if the 'caretaker' would be willing to stay on for 'a few' weeks after they close."

"I'll ask him. He's not paying us rent and he'd be care-taking so he shouldn't pay them either. Can we stipulate a month or more for him?"

"I informed them of that and yes, we can ask them to set a timeframe for him."

"Great, let's go for it and I'll ask Ned right away. I'll have him call you and you guys set it up. I don't know if I can dictate this but would it be possible for you to remain as Ned's contact rather than the new owners? I'm worried they'll renege on the 'no rent' stance and if that happens, I'll pay his rent!"

"Yes, we can set it up. I have Mr. Dorneget's contact information already, so we're good to go with that."

"All right, the movers are here and we're leaving for our friend's place in Georgetown when they're done or we can't stand watching anymore. When do we sign papers?"

Mitch laughed, "I'm sending the forms to your email now. You and Delilah attach your electronic signatures and date them. We have your signatures on file here so that should be fine."

"So we don't need to print them?"

"No, electronic signatures are accepted."

"Yay! Okay, we'll get on that as soon as possible. Do the forms have the final selling price on them?"

"Yes, and I believe you'll be very happy."

"Great! Be back with you in a few minutes."

Inside he found the living room, dining room and kitchen had already been cleared of everything. The kitchen in particular looked naked without the appliances. Ned had a microwave, toaster oven and a mini-fridge and said he didn't need anything else. His stuff was still locked in the guest room.

Tim found his wife and children outside, the kids sitting on folding chairs they'd take with them on the jet. There were a couple of empty ones and he sat on one. They were relaxing, eating lunch. They'd made sandwiches early this morning and put them in an insulated bag with a few ice packs. He smiled, "Guess what?"

Dee looked at him and her eyes lit up. "We sold the house?"

"Yes, we did. And, I'm sorry, Dee, I went ahead, accepted a buyer, without even consulting you!"

She laughed, "Honey, I asked you to handle everything, even the sale! You don't remember that?"

"The move, yes, but not the sale part. You really don't mind?"

"Not at all. So, tell me."

"As rare as accessible housing is, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that there was a bidding war. I don't know what the final price was, it's on the paperwork. There were 11 offers. I asked Mitch who needed the house the most and he told me and I said yes to them. They're paying cash and they want Ned to stay on for a few weeks until they can move in."

"Wonderful! Do we have to go sign papers this afternoon?"

"No, we can do that on the laptop, our electronic signatures are good now. No more signing or initialing 500 pieces of paper!"

"I like that! When do we get our money?"

"They're paying cash, so it'll be direct deposited tonight or tomorrow."

"Yay! All right, let me finish this bite, then I'm ready to sign."

They smiled in surprise when Ned came in. "Hey, my boss told me to take the rest of the day off. The house looks naked!"

Tim nodded, "That's what I thought, too." He looked at Ned, "Do you have a TV tray and if you do, may we borrow it? We've sold the house and need to sign forms online. Need someplace besides our laps to put the laptop."

"Yes, I have one, yes, I'll go get it and congratulations!"

While Tim booted up his laptop, glad they'd left the wifi for Ned, their friend returned with the TV tray. "Here you go. Uh, I know you'll update me with the new move-out date."

"Geez, Ned, my head's not on straight, that was one of the things the buyers asked, that you stay on for a few weeks, we'll get the timeframe in writing. You need at least a month!"

"Hope so but I'll be fine if it's less than that."

When one of the twins tagged him 'it', Ned took off after them while Tim and Dee applied their electronic initials, the date and their electronic signatures on the pages marked for them. It took less then 15 minutes and they were done, sending the forms back to Mitch. They'd seen the selling price and were nearly speechless, it was more than double what they'd paid for the house and the renovations.

Mitch called an hour later, "It's done, their documents are in and their money has been deposited to your account. Congratulations!"

"Wow, that was fast! I thought we'd have to wait a few days."

"Not always necessary when the buyers are paying cash. When are you leaving for your friend's place?"

"By 4:00. What's Ned's timeframe?"

"He's good to July 1st when your buyers will be ready to move in. How about I swing by about 3:00? I have a little something for you, something that won't violate the 'no gift' law."

"Sure, that'd be fine."

Tim shrugged when Dee asked what he had for them. Ned grinned, "I bet he has a present for you. He just made a nice commission off the sale."

"That's true. Won't be much, though, we're only allowed to accept items under $20."

Dee smiled, "Mm, I bet it's candy!"

Ned chuckled, "Wait until you get to the West Coast and try See's Candy! It's my favorite. I think it's sold back here now but I don't know where."

Tim ate his lunch while the kids ran around the backyard, playing and occasionally stopping to say goodbye to something or other. They'd picked a few vegetables but left most of them, Ned would be around when they'd ripen and he promised to take what he didn't want into the office. He was excited about looking for a new place and with a month of no rent and the care-taking money, he'd have longer to look for a place and be able to spend a little more.

While Ned resumed playing with the kids, Tim and Dee went for a stroll around the neighborhood. They didn't see any of their neighbors but wanted to have one last look. When they returned to the house, Tim's face lit up as he saw Lu standing in the front yard, grinning at him. Beside him, he heard Dee chuckle and he gave her a quick kiss. "For whatever you did, thank you!"

He wrapped his arms around his surrogate mother. "Mamalu, I'm so glad to see you!"

"That's good because I'm going with you, Timmo."

"To California?"

"Yes."

"Wow, that's awesome! How long can you stay?"

"I'm not planning to move back unless you do."

Tim blinked back tears, "You're moving with us? How did this happen?"

He looked at his wife who was beaming at him. "It all came together after you mentioned it! Lu said she was thinking of coming at Thanksgiving and staying for the winter and would find a place of her own or a room to rent. I said, guest room, hello! Then I looked at our reservations for the residential hotel and guess what, we have three rooms booked! When we said we had two children, they must have assumed they'd each need a room. So Lu is flying with us, I called Pam Cook who added her to the flight manifest. As for today…"

Lu's grin got wider, "I'm officially retired, I worked my last shift last night and this morning. When I haven't been here or at work, I've been packing and getting the house ready. Your brothers took me out to dinner day before yesterday and they've all promised to come for Christmas. Today, Barry brought me over in Bill's truck with everything I'm taking on the plane and for the movers. Dee already told them. It's only a few boxes, my bed, desk and my favorite chair. Bill and Barry are giving up their apartments and moving into my place. Barry's still here, somewhere."

Now Tim spotted Bill's truck and smiled. He'd been trying to think of a way to introduce Barry to Ned without seeming too obvious. He nodded to the truck, "I bet he's in the backyard with the kids and Ned."

"Oh! That's good, isn't it?"

Tim shrugged, laughing, he hoped so! He was still thinking about his mom, happy that she'd retired. He knew she'd been financially ready for the past couple of years but hadn't been sure what she would do in retirement. Now she'd have new adventures with them and the rest of the family would visit whenever they could.

Their realtor showed up at 2:30 just as the gang was getting a bit restless. The kids were tired of playing, their toys were all packed and their house looked sad without their things.

Barry had decided to stay until they left for Ducky's, although he and Ned would go out for a bite to eat after the family left, then he'd return to Baltimore. Or maybe hang out here until the worst of the commute was over.

When Mitch showed up, he handed a gift bag to Dee. "Don't open it until you get to California. Thank you, Dee, Tim, kids, you've been a dream to work with and I appreciate you asking me to handle the sale. Have a wonderful life in San Diego, I'll think of you when it's snowing here or raining for days on end."

Shaking their hands, he left, waving from his car. By 3:00, the movers were done, including moving Dee's van and Tim's car onto the trailers. Giving them a tracker so they could see where their stuff was, they waved goodbye. Tim and Dee went back into the house to make sure they had everything. The garage only held what they were taking on the plane, the shed in the backyard was empty, brother Bill now owned the snowblower and the kitchen cabinets were empty. Everything was gone and the house was neat and clean, not at all like there had been several guys in and out, moving furniture and boxes all day. Even so, a professional cleaning company would come in after Ned moved out and before the new owners moved in.

Tim called for their pre-arranged ride and within an hour, they'd said goodbye to Ned and Barry, loaded their suitcases, boxes, folding chairs and Lu's sewing machine into the cargo van and traveled to Georgetown. Rather than unload the cargo van and then reload it in the morning, it would be locked up, with its cargo, in Ducky's garage overnight and with the passenger van would be driven to the airfield in the morning.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Once they were inside the 'Mallard Inn', everyone seemed to fold in on themselves. Tim noticed that he was tired to the bone and Dee said much the same thing. The consummate host, Ducky had dinner ready, a surprise as Dee and Tim had planned to have something delivered. As Tim helped the older man plate their simple dinner, he was asked if he'd heard from or seen Jethro. He shook his head, "I saw him the week I was promoted, I went to his place and told him. He didn't have much of a reaction, although he did admit there was a problem. Haven't seen or heard from him since."

Ducky shook his head, "I know Director Vance had breakfast with him that Thursday and that he was markedly not himself. But that's all, except that Vance has assured me he is safe and doing all right, getting some much needed rest." Ducky had a suspicion about where he was getting that rest but as he wasn't sure he didn't share that with his friend.

Tim nodded, that's what he'd been told, too. He had a crazy hope that he'd show up at the airfield in the morning but even as he thought it, he knew it to be a futile hope. He'd send a card to his house and hope that would get to him. It seemed strange, after they'd been so close, to be so…he didn't want to say estranged but that described the situation. He was afraid that with him no longer being a member of the MCRT as well as the move to the West Coast, the estrangement would be permanent. He chided himself, as long as everyone was still breathing, there was hope and he'd already promised himself not to give up. Still, that nagging little worry popped up every now and then.

When he'd asked Rick about Gibbs' house, the man grinned, "Let's just say that if Gibbs isn't around when Ned's through with your gig, he can stay there. Right now, Vance has Maggie Barnes staying there, with Gibbs' knowledge and permission, while she's looking for her own place."

Tim had smiled at that, "Of course, she's a fellow Marine!"

Now, after they enjoyed their dinner, Lu took the kids outside for a few minutes, they loved Granducky's backyard, while Dee and Tim got the kid's jammies and bath toys out. When the kids brought their grandmother in, they were happy to have their baths and then cuddles, but were sound asleep before Dee got through the first page of their story.

The McGees were staying in two of the downstairs bedrooms, Lu had an upstairs room and Ducky's bedroom was also downstairs although he said he slept in his library most nights. The McGees were staying in rooms right next to each other. The twins had seen the room their parents were in and had been back and forth and tonight they'd leave the doors open. Ducky had installed baby gates on the stairs when Victoria started to crawl and they were still in place, so they were closed after Lu went upstairs and Ducky flipped the latch on the front door to keep wandering toddlers from wandering too far.

The McGees were asleep by 8:30 while Lu lasted another hour and Ducky sat in his library trying his best not to mourn the breakup of the family they'd been for a little while. Tim was the last of them. First Ziva, although of course poor Caitlyn had really been first, then Anthony, then Abigail and now their Timothy. One by one, they'd slipped away. He prayed that nothing like this would ever come between his Palmers and him.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Tim woke at 0430, a few seconds before his watch was programmed to wake him up. Dee woke a minute later and blinking her eyes and yawning, pulled herself up to lay out their game plan for the day. "Ok, this is going to be a long stressful day. It'll feel chaotic this morning when we get to the airfield and all our stuff is being loaded. Then we can board, go to sleep, eat and sleep some more. You, Lu and the kids need to get up and move around. Then it'll be chaotic again in San Diego. Our ride and the cargo van will show up! We can eat at the hotel and have a swim, unpack and sleep some more or do something else if we're not sleepy. Tomorrow morning we'll be awake at 0300 and I don't think the pool is open then. Let's get some food tomorrow for the weekend. Are we getting our rental van on Friday?"

"Yes. They'll bring it to the hotel, but I'll need it Friday morning to drive into San Diego to meet with my new boss. Or maybe I'll Uber in so you can have the van. By the way, your Disabled card will be valid in California for 30 days after we tell them we've arrived."

She chuckled, "I sense some fluid time in that…'after we tell them'. Is that when we have to change the registration on our cars, too?"

"And our licenses, yes."

"I'm glad our tags won't expire until November so we don't have to pay here and there!"

"Yeah, me too. I hear California's annual car registration is pretty expensive."

"Will you have a company car?"

"I'm not sure, the position description is pretty vague, says I might have one assigned to me that I may be able to drive for personal use for a monthly fee."

"So if you do, we can sell your car."

"Right. But what about Lu? If I have an agency sedan, no one else can drive it."

She chuckled. "We wondered when you'd ask! Bill's friend Thad is driving it across country. He'd planned a road trip but his car broke down before he left and wouldn't be ready in time for his trip and he couldn't change his time off. So he restructured his trip and is now driving Lu's car. He left Tuesday night and should be at the hotel on Sunday. He's planning to stop in a few places."

Tim's eyebrows shot up. "That's a long trip for one driver. And dangerous, whether he takes the northern or southern route."

"It is a long trip, he's driving the southern route, and Bill made him promise to check in with him a couple of times a day. At least by text to say where he is and how things are going. Lu wrote a letter that Thad has permission to drive/transport her car from Maryland to California for her and had it notarized. She gave a copy to Barry, along with a copy of Thad's driver's license and her plate number. Barry called a few law enforcement contacts and, long story short, there are state troopers, police and sheriff's departments across the southern route who have proof that Thad is legit and have promised to come to his aid if he runs into trouble. Lu told me Thad said he was going to put a sign in the car window that he was a "Friend of Barry Rudd, Sgt., Baltimore PD."

Tim nodded, "He was probably joking but that might not be a bad idea."

Dee shook her head, "That's what Barry said, too. He hasn't said anything to Bill, but he's been checking with his contacts every day and so far, Thad's been safe and on track. As planned, he stopped in Nashville his first day to see the Grand Ol' Opry and the city and stayed overnight. That's the other thing, he'd planned to camp out but with Lu paying him to transport the car, the guys convinced him to stay at reputable motels."

"Good. Does he know any self-defense, martial arts?"

"Yes, he's taken MMA classes. They also put a couple of cameras in the car and he has one to put on his shirt."

Tim nodded, hoping the guy enjoyed a hassle-free drive. With any luck and all the protection Barry had arranged, the only hassle might have already happened when the man's own car broke down. He knew Thad, although he hadn't seen him in several years. He'd been one of Bill's many roommates throughout the first years after he left the camp.

They took turns showering and dressing, then re-packed. Waking the twins, they helped them dress in clothes that would be comfortable for the plane ride. Tim took their bags to the living room, piling it quietly by the front door. When Lu joined them, carrying part of her luggage, he brought the rest of it down.

In the kitchen, they found a slow cooker full of hot oatmeal, with a box of brown sugar, five bowls and spoons nearby. A coffeemaker that Ducky only used for guests was perking away and three mugs sat with the bowls. Two smaller mugs and two packets of hot chocolate mix sat next to them. While water for the hot chocolate was heating in the microwave, Tim and Lu helped the kids into booster seats they thought might belong to the Palmers.

Sitting at the kitchen table, they ate their first breakfast and the littles enjoyed their hot chocolate while their adults nearly inhaled their coffee. Cleaning up their dishes and after teeth brushing, potty breaks, hand and face washing, they were ready when the passenger van arrived along with the driver for the cargo van.

Tim backed it out of the garage and went back inside to find that Ducky had joined them. He kissed them goodbye, promising to visit soon. He held onto Tim for a long moment and Tim relaxed into the embrace, trying not to hug his beloved friend too hard. When they parted, Ducky patted his cheek. "Now go along, my sweet Timothy. It's time for new adventures!"

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Their travel day unfolded much as Dee predicted. They arrived safely and in plenty of time at the airfield. Tim watched the cargo van being unloaded and their belongings loaded onto the sleek jet. Step 1, check!

Step 2 was boarding. As the gangway had stairs, Dee was escorted to the rear of the jet where she'd enter via a lift and transfer to an aisle chair. People with babies boarded before Tim, the kids and Lu walked up the steps. They were followed by the Secretary of the Navy, who stepped into the seats across from them to say hello and to congratulate Tim on his promotion and transfer. "I think you'll love the region, it's got just about everything, including snow in the mountains and very mild winters. We lived there for a few years when my daughter was a little older than Morgan and Johnny are now and we loved it, especially all the beaches. And your new boss, Joel Morris, is a good man, a strong leader without being overbearing. It'll be different and I think eye opening for you to have your own teams with your SSAIC located elsewhere." She added with a wink, "And thousands of miles from DC!"

They chatted for another minute, until there was a break in passengers boarding and then she slipped down the aisle to what she called her 'onboard office', stopping to say hello to a few other people. Whenever he was awake over the next four hours, Tim thought a lot about her last words, about Agent Morris and having his own team. He was both excited and terrified that he'd screw up, get someone hurt or like Bishop, do something stupid, causing more death and/or destruction. Finally he decided he could not think that way. No one was drafted or forced into an armed federal agency and each of his agents would have been vetted and counseled just as he had been. Nobody took a position like that without knowing it could be a dangerous job and that you'd better keep your wits about you. With that caveat, he purposefully left that train of thought.

With the accessible restroom near the front of the jet, the family settled as close to it as possible. A flight attendant would assist Dee with an 'aisle' chair to her seat and then to and from the restroom if necessary. Her wheelchair was in the cargo bay, legally it could not be used aboard the jet. Tim had looked into the accessible restroom and as expected, reassured his wife that it was wide enough to transfer from the aisle chair to the commode. With a four hour flight, she didn't anticipate having to use the facilities but was glad to know.

The twins were told they'd go for a walk later to see everything else on the plane. That worked out well as, following their mother's game plan, the pair were asleep by the time the jet was in the air and Dee was right behind them. When the seatbelt sign went off, Tim stood for a while. Busy getting his family settled, he hadn't paid much attention to the other passengers. Now he took a quick look. He saw a man who looked vaguely familiar, three other couples, one with a baby, and one member of each couple in either Navy or Marine uniform. There were several people seated together mid-plane and he thought they might be part of the Secretary's staff or at least worked together somewhere as they all had laptops or tablets out and appeared to be working. Beyond that, he saw the SecNav in a bank of otherwise empty seats. She was on her phone and looking up, waved with a smile. He nodded back with a smile.

He walked for a few minutes, stopping when the guy who looked vaguely familiar joined him. The man looked at him, "Do we know each other?"

Tim shrugged, "I think we've met at some point, you look sort of familiar."

"You too. Are you Navy or Marine?"

"Neither, I'm with NCIS."

"Oh, that's where we met. I was an ensign back then, 5 years ago and found my buddy's body and was brought in for questioning." The man named the murder victim, from a case 5 years before and Tim nodded, he remembered. This guy had been questioned in a conference room, he'd never been a suspect. It took them several days to find the murderer, now in prison for life.

Tim smiled, "You were never a suspect, that's why the conference room and not interrogation. As I recall, you knew more about the victim than most people did, that's why we asked you to come in, you were a big help. I know Agent Gibbs let your CO know that. And thanks for remembering, now I won't lie awake nights trying to figure it out! How are you doing?"

"Great, thanks! I've just been promoted to a full lieutenant and am on my way to my posting at Yokosuka. I'm married and have a beautiful little girl. My wife and daughter will join me in a couple of weeks. Are you still with the MCRT?"

"No, I've also been promoted and will have my own office and teams in the San Diego area. I'm looking forward to the new duty and the different weather!"

The lieutenant laughed, "I'll bet, big change from DC! I'm a little leery of Singapore's weather but it is what it is. My wife's from Louisiana, so she's used to heat and humidity. I'm originally from Seattle so it'll be a challenge!"

Tim shook his head, "I'm sure you'll be so busy with your new posting, looking for housing that you'll become acclimated before you think too much about it."

"Hope so, thanks for the good thought!"

Tim continued on his way, glad to know who the guy was! He returned to his seat, smelling coffee brewing in the galley. Smiling, he sat in his very comfortable seat, loving that he had plenty of room for his arms and long legs. He could get used to this! He imagined flying overseas on one of these and smiled, oh yeah, that would be awesome!

He got up again when Johnny woke, pulling on his sleeve, "Daddy, I gotta go!" Quickly unbuckling their seat belts, Tim had his little boy in the restroom in record time. After washing their hands, they walked out of the restroom only to find Lu and Morgan waiting their turn.

By the time the four of them had settled back in, beverages were being delivered. Dee woke to the smell of coffee and smiled at her family. Tim had what Gibbs would call a 'fancy' coffee, Dee and Lu had regular coffee and the littles had milk. Breakfast was a choice of pancakes and eggs or eggs, hash browns and bacon. The adults of the family treated themselves to the bacon, hash browns and eggs while the twins wanted pancakes and eggs. Lu laughed at the looks exchanged between Dee and Tim and the ensuing chuckling. Yes, this was a treat and the three adults would probably finish off the twins' pancakes. They'd return to their healthier food routine once they were feeding themselves. She was glad the 3 bedroom suite they'd be sharing had a kitchenette so they wouldn't have to eat restaurant food every day. Sure, it'd be delicious but sometimes she just wanted a peanut butter and banana sandwich with carrot and celery sticks or a cookie and who wanted to pay restaurant prices for a peanut butter and banana sandwich? She just hoped they'd have a dishwasher!

After their delicious breakfasts, people got up and moved around for a bit before most returned to their seats to either sleep or amuse themselves. When the twins fell asleep again, Lu and Tim walked some more, nodding at other passengers walking in the opposite direction. One of the perks of flying in private jets was that the aisles could be wider and the seats could, within reason, be configured in different ways. The McGees had 5 seats split into a group of 3 and another group of 2, that faced each other, with two windows, similar to seating found on a train. To make things easier if she had to be moved, Dee had one of the seats on the aisle while Tim sat facing her, the twins tucked in next to him and Lu with the window seat next to Dee. There was enough room between the seats, legs and feet for the kids to play on the floor if they wanted and Dee had stuffed a blanket into their carry-on that the kids could sit on if they did want to play.

The toys stayed in their bag as the twins and for the most part the adults, slept the rest of the way. Apparently most of the passengers did because one of the flight attendants roused them via the in-flight speaker. "Wake up, everyone! We're about to begin our descent into San Diego. If anyone wants anything or needs to use the restroom, now is the time to ask or go!"

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

After a smooth landing, the flight attendant asked that everyone continuing on to Japan remain on the jet until those who were leaving the flight here had disembarked. With a smile, she added, "Except for Secretary Porter, of course, it's her jet!"

Porter laughed as she walked up the aisle, "I wish! The jet belongs to the United States Navy, it's only mine because I too belong to the United States Navy." She stopped at the front, "Just wanted to say goodbye and good luck to those of you leaving us here. Special Agent McGee and family, don't be too surprised if I drop in to see you! I know you are going to enjoy your lives here!"

With a smile, she moved aside as the passengers began to leave, except for the McGees. When the others were gone, Dee was helped out, riding in the aisle chair to the lift and then down to her wheelchair where she expertly transferred. In the meantime, Tim and Lu gathered the kids and all their carry-ons, walking down the gangway where they found Dee waiting for them. When they saw a passenger van and a cargo van approaching, Tim and Dee high-fived. Step 3, check!

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After what felt like an interminable wait, their belongings, including the rosebushes, were loaded into the cargo van and they climbed into the passenger van. To their relief, the ride to the hotel was relatively short. Once there, Dee went to check in while someone from the hotel helped Tim and the van drivers unload everything from both vans onto baggage carts. The rest of the family waited in the lobby. The kids were trying to be good but they were restless, had seen the pool and wanted to swim.

With help from the hotel staff most of the baggage carts were moved to their suite while, to Tim's relief, the things they wouldn't need right away were put in a storage closet in the back of the hotel. They were given keys so they could access their belongings at any time.

Once everything and everyone was in the right place, Tim generously tipped each of their helpers, glad their transfer coordinator had said something. While Lu and Dee began to unpack and get things into place, Tim and the twins carried the box with the rosebushes out to the patio. He was surprised as he'd expected a tiny little square but it was sizeable with a 5' by 6' lawn for the kids to play on, a table with a shade umbrella, 5 chairs and a barbecue.

Gently removing the roses from the box and then removing the burlap, the plants were placed in the shade for now and given a drink of water. He'd feed them tomorrow and then, after a day or two in fresh air and shade, they could be moved into the sunlight. When they'd been removed from the ground, both had been potted in biodegradable pots so when they had someplace permanent to be planted, the whole pot would go in the ground, making an easier transition, they hoped, for the plants. After the rosebushes were settled, Tim took a photo, sending it to Liz and his dad.

Back inside, the twins were helped to put away their clothes, books and toys, their bath toys going straight into their bathroom. That was another plus at this hotel, in the suites each bedroom had its own bathroom.

The bedrooms were quite nice. Each had a closet and a vertical dresser. The kids' room was large enough for them to play in, with two toddler beds, a basket for toys and a little bookshelf for their books. Dee had contacted the hotel to let them know an adult would be in the third bedroom, not a child, which meant Lu's room had adult furniture, a queen bed with a bookshelf and a large comfy chair with a floor lamp and footstool, desk with a chair and a slider to the patio. To her surprise, she also had her own TV. The bathroom was quite nice, with a vanity area and a bench that tucked underneath it, a lovely soaker tub and a separate shower.

The master bedroom was large. Not as large as theirs at the 'old' house but then they hadn't expected it to be. They had a California King bed with two dressers, two comfy chairs like Lu's, complete with a floor lamp, footstools and a slider to the patio. They also had a desk and a table, which both were happy about. Dee's chair didn't fit well under the desk but fit the table perfectly. Thus, the desk became Tim's, the table Dee's.

The common area was quite large, Tim said he thought it might be the size of all three bedrooms combined. There was a table big enough to seat all of them, a microwave, large toaster oven, two electric burners with a small built-in hood and exhaust fan over them, a coffeemaker, electric kettle, sink, a small dishwasher and a full-sized refrigerator and freezer that was set into an alcove so it didn't take over the entire room. When Tim opened a set of closet doors, he found a stackable washer and dryer. All 3 of the adults cheered and Dee immediately opened the box that had their laundry soap and other laundry aids. The rest of the common area had a long sectional sofa, comfortable chairs, side tables, a coffee table and a large TV with a DVD player.

Because they didn't know how long they'd stay at the hotel, Tim brought his two safes along on the plane. While there was a room safe, he needed to put the gun safe somewhere where the kids couldn't find it. Finally, he tucked it into the farthest reaches of his side of the master closet and then waited for Dee to unpack her shoes before he buried his laptop strongbox underneath them.

Once they were done unpacking, the adults found the kids sprawled out on their beds, asleep again. Lu, Dee and Tim thought that looked like a good idea.

When Tim woke, he remembered he hadn't yet unpacked their large insulated bag. He'd made sandwiches for lunch today and had made an extra casserole the other night and frozen it. If he put it in the fridge now, it should be thawed enough to reheat by the time they wanted dinner. If not, they'd either put it in the microwave, call for delivery or splurge on room service. They had two other large insulated bags that held what they'd had in their fridge at home and he unpacked both of them, glad they wouldn't have to buy milk, cereal or fruit for a few days. Everything had held up well. They'd also brought bread, butter, pasta, crackers, peanut butter, jam, fresh fruit and veggies from their garden. There was another box with all their dry and canned goods, olive and vegetable oil and spices. He unpacked that along with his favorite skillet, a spatter shield that fit over the skillet, a baking dish and sheet pan that would both fit in the toaster oven. He found a drawer big enough for their eating and cooking utensils and another for dish towels, pot holders, foil, plastic bags and the last one was for various miscellaneous items. He quietly went through the rest of the boxes and bags to make sure he hadn't missed any frozen or refrigerated items. When he was done, he looked at the boxes, thinking he should knock them down. Instead, he went back to bed.

Eventually everyone was up and surprised at how many boxes were now empty. Tim smiled, "I knew they were here and couldn't sleep until I got the frozen and refrigerated stuff put away. And then there was another box and well, as you can see, I think the kitchen is unpacked. Now, is anyone hungry? We have sandwiches, apples and carrots!"

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Friday morning, Tim took Uber into San Diego rather than try to find his way on his own. That meant he could watch what exits to take, etc. When he walked into the agency lobby, he smiled at the sign welcoming him to the office.

His new boss, Joel Morris, was an affable man who made Tim quickly feel at home, even though he wouldn't be working in this office. He gave Tim a tour, introducing him to the department folks he'd be dealing with for various things. When he took him to meet the field team, Tim saw a vaguely familiar face and when their names were spoken, she said, "I know you from somewhere!"

He smiled, "I've worked aboard the Navy Yard most of my career, on the Major Case Response Team."

She squinted in thought, "Was your team lead a grouchy, hard-ass Marine?"

Tim chuckled, "Yep. Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Were you in DC?"

"No, I started as a case agent in Jacksonville."

Tim thought a minute before saying, "The chaplain with the vintage brides he kept captive and let starve?"

"Oh my God, you're the child they had with you!"

Everyone laughed at that and Tim rolled his eyes, "I was in my mid-20s!"

"Oh sure. The guy that was with you ate something off my desk."

"Sounds like him. He's been more or less housebroken since then. And Kate Todd was our junior agent."

"Yeah, I liked her!"

Tim nodded, grateful the woman, Jane something, didn't ask where his former co-workers were these days. She was the SAIC for the field team, which basically put her on a par with him, although he had more people reporting to him and, as he reminded himself, would have his own office. Not that there was a competition or anything!

He didn't stay long and was back in Playa Vieja by 1000. He'd had his Uber driver roll past his new office this morning and liked the looks of it. Now, on a whim, rather than returning to the hotel, he asked his driver to stop at a bakery and then they drove to his new office. He called the office as the driver found a parking space and sat back to relax, Tim saying he'd be out in 15 minutes.

Joel had mentioned that the agent who'd come out of retirement to lead the office was working from home today and would respond to any questions or problems if needed. The team was off rotation until Tuesday, with Tim officially reporting for duty on Monday. The interim lead would come into the office on Monday to do the official handoff.

Not intending to stay long, he suspected that being off rotation the field agents might have taken the day off. He was half right, one of the agents was off, although he would respond if there was a critical case. Tim appreciated the arrangement.

He had fun, everyone was happy to meet him and his box of treats, which were cheerfully enjoyed.

Returning to the hotel, he found his family in the pool and quickly joined them. When they finally climbed out and dried off a bit, they returned to their suite where they ate lunch outside on the patio. They were still sitting out there, the kids playing on the lawn, when Tim had a call from their relocation agent.

She had a few places for them to view if they had time that afternoon. Lu was happy to watch the children and the twins were excited about their parents looking at new houses for them. The agent would pick them up at the hotel in 30 minutes. Relieved and happy that she'd already found homes for them to view, Dee and Tim changed out of their still damp swim suits into casual clothes.

They met the agent, Ms. Zack, in the lobby. They'd chatted with her on Skype a couple of times and were a little surprised to see the 'Disabled' card hanging from her rear-view mirror. She smiled, "My sister and I live together and she has back problems, enough so that she qualifies for that and we decided it would be all right if I used it today."

Tim looked at Dee, who nodded, "Actually, I have mine with me and I know neither my husband nor I want you to get into any trouble. In Virginia, the card follows the person, not the car."

The woman smiled, "Then we'll use yours, although I don't think we'll necessarily need it. Each of these homes is accessible with a driveway and garage." She put her sister's card in the glove box.

The first house was in a pleasant looking neighborhood and they saw signs of families and in particular younger children living there, a Big Wheels on a porch, a baby swing on another. The house was a ranch with four bedrooms and 2 ½ baths, open concept, in this case meaning the kitchen was open to the living room and dining area.

Moving from the car to the front door was easy, there was a paved path that led to the entrance, with a wide porch off to the right of the door. Dee easily rolled through the doorway and into the main living area. The living room was a little small but then they really only used their living room during November for their birthdays, Thanksgiving and of course Christmas and New Year's. After that, they rarely had company until it was warm enough to entertain outside.

The dining room was also small, they figured they could fit about 12 people in there which wouldn't work for their combined family gatherings on the aforementioned occasions. The only way would be to put tables in the living room and dining room but they'd be disconnected and what fun would that be?

The kitchen had a lot of the accessible features that they were looking for but it was not what Gibbs had called 'a 2 butt' kitchen. As Tim and Dee loved to cook together, that was a problem. It also was not an eat-in kitchen. They continued on their tour, the agent curious to see what else she'd learn about the couple.

The master bedroom was large enough, had a walk-in closet and Ms. Zack pointed out a small alcove with a desk and chair. Neither of them liked that, saying they needed separate, private offices. The walk-in-closet was even more of a bust. There was room enough for their clothes but nowhere near enough room for Dee's shoes. When the agent started to ask a question about that, Tim sent her a wide-eyed look and she closed her mouth.

With an appreciative smile, Tim said, "Dee loves pretty, stylish shoes and because she can no longer walk, she doesn't have to worry about them hurting to walk in or getting scuffed up. She has a great collection and they do need their own space. Even if I took my clothes out of here and we added shelving for her shoes, there wouldn't be enough space."

Ms. Zack saw the surprised and loving look Mrs. McGee sent her husband and decided not to ask any shoe-related questions. Except that Tim looked thoughtful, "Sweetie, what if we converted the alcove where the desk is to a shoe closet. We could line it with shelves on three sides, get the same apparatus we had before to bring them up or down to you. And put a door on it."

Dee nodded with a smile, "Then you could put your gun safe in there, too. Or the other one."

"Maybe, we would need to see where there's room."

The last thing they looked at in the master was at the French doors that led to the patio and backyard. Tim preferred heavy sliders to French doors, as he opined that the heavy sliders were harder for curious little people to open than the doors. When Ms. Zack looked surprised at that, Dee said, "Tim's a criminal investigator for the federal government and in his experience, sliders are safer with little people in the house."

Dee thought what she'd seen of the backyard was also disappointing but then they'd been told that yards, lots in general, would be smaller here. Along the back corridor they saw the other bedrooms. While the master bedroom had been large enough, only one other bedroom fit their room-size criteria. And it was the farthest from the master. As it would be the kids' room, that wasn't good. The other two bedrooms were, in Dee's words, 'dinky' and there was no way an Extra-long California King bed would fit in either one. They'd have to knock out walls and reconfigure the three bedrooms and that would probably leave them with two bedrooms when they really needed three besides the master bedroom, one for the kids, one for Lu and one for guests. Dee shook her head, speaking aloud, "We really need about 6 bedrooms, 3 for us, the kids, Lu, a room for my mom, rooms for our dads and rooms for all of your brothers!"

Tim explained their family, finishing by saying, "I don't know how tall Sarah's new boyfriend is." He turned to his wife who smiled, "He's the same height as Geordie."

"Okay, not a special need then. I'm not even sure the queen beds would fit and that's your dad and I hope mine. And our moms."

"You have a large family!"

Dee grinned, "I'm an only child, now part of a huge family!"

"And all these people will be visiting you?"

Tim nodded, "Yes and it is possible they'll visit at the same time. In fact, my mom will be living with us, which means our Baltimore family will absolutely visit."

The agent smiled, "I think it's wonderful that so many people without other family have chosen to become one."

Moving to the backyard, it was as small as they'd thought when viewing it from the master bedroom. Still, they looked around. There was either room for a grill or a play area for the kids and the children won hands down. They didn't see any room for a raised bed vegetable garden. There was one tree in the middle of everything. When Tim thought about removing it, he realized it wouldn't be worth the small amount of additional space it would give them. Although they could put hanging boxes on the fence for their vegetables and flowers or build terraced planting beds against the fenceline, that still wouldn't give the children much room to play or for anyone to sit outside and relax.

Tim and Dee toured the house again before taking another look at the back, front and narrow side yards. They agreed there wasn't enough room to add on the square footage they'd need. And the backyard was already too small. The only way to get the room they needed would be to build up and that didn't suit their needs for a variety of reasons.

With a laugh, Dee said, "We knew the lots would be smaller but we didn't anticipate they'd be this small."

Ms. Zack smiled, "I understand this has been a disappointment for you; however, it's been great for me. Now I know what you're looking for, what you need besides the accessibility features. It's the only way for realtors to really know. We'll skip the next place as the yard and common areas are even smaller. That still leaves us with two more prospects to see this afternoon."

Dee nodded, "The accessibility factor for this house is great, you nailed it."

Ms. Zack made a little face, "Except for the shoe closet." All three of them laughed at that.

The other two prospects received 'B' grades for accessibility but the rooms were again very small and one only had a bathtub in the master and the kids were a little young to switch to showers. And their parents weren't ready to give up the nightly bath time with their babies. If everything else had fallen into place, they would have happily bathed the kids in the master bath.

As they drove to the last house for the day, they told Ms. Zack about giving up on finding an already accessible house in Virginia and instead focusing on finding a house that had room enough and was structurally sound enough to make the changes they needed. She listened before asking, "Would you have the resources to do that here?"

"If absolutely necessary but we really don't want to. For one thing, we have 120 days to find housing, and our previous renovation took longer than that."

Dee interjected, "Honey, remember that Bill, Jethro, you and the others were only working weekends and whatever days they had off. When you and Jethro got caught up on a big case, Bill brought a couple of his carpenter buddies over to help."

"I forgot about that. So a contractor working full-time could get it done faster, good point! Still, I hate the idea of moving twice."

"Me too."

Reaching their final possibility for the day, they were again disappointed, although as Dee said, "That's four more accessible houses than we looked at during our first try in DC!"

Tim smiled, "You're right, we're already ahead of the game!"

Ms. Zack smiled, she liked these two and had a good feeling about their future home. "If I find more over the weekend, will you be available?"

They both nodded, Tim saying, "I start my new job on Monday. If we don't land a case, I'll be available after 5 PM."

Dee tilted her head, "I'm resuming work a week from Monday, so I'll be available during the day next week. I'll probably bring Lu, Tim's mom, and the twins with us if it's during the day."

"That's fine, I'd like to meet them. Tim, you mentioned two safes. How big are they and how hidden do they need to be?"

He gave her the dimensions of the gun safe and told her it had to be easy for him to get to but well hidden and as inaccessible as possible to the twins. Tim then gave Ms. Zack the dimensions of the second safe. "That's not dangerous for the kids. It's electronic equipment that…" He sighed and seemed to be considering something before he squared his shoulders. "Along with my federal job, I'm also a writer and in the past had problems with a deranged fan stealing the typewriter ribbon I'd used on my then current manuscript and murdering two people he believed were my characters."

"How awful!"

"We barely prevented a third murder before we caught him. He's in prison but there are more crazy fans out there. So now I use a laptop that has never connected to the internet and I lock it in a safe when it's not in use. I'm relying on your discretion, please."

She nodded, "Of course. I've signed non-disclosure agreements before, would that help?"

With a smile, he tilted his head in thought, saying, "Possibly, let me think about it. Thanks for offering."

Back at the hotel, she told them she'd be in touch tomorrow or Sunday and then waved to two little ones wrapped in towels, standing with a woman she thought must be Mr. McGee's mother. The littles and the woman waved back and then Tim picked up both kids, putting one in his wife's lap, kissing the kids, his mother and his wife. "Mm, love you all!"

Morgan's eyes lit up, "Did you find us a new house?"

"Not yet. The houses we saw were all right, they had all the special things for your mommy, but they weren't wonderful enough for us to live in."

Lu shook her head, laughing, "You mean all the accessible features were there but the houses were otherwise imperfect?"

Dee rolled her eyes, "Think small. Bill and Rob would have to curl in half to sleep in any of the rooms beside the master and the walk-in-closets in all of the houses were just adequate."

Tim grinned, "Tell them."

She made a face at him, "You did so well backing me up, thank you, by the way."

He shrugged, "It's the truth. You want people to see you, not the chair."

She nodded, "Thanks, honey." She looked at Lu, "In the first house, there wasn't any room in the master bedroom for my shoes. And there was a narrow little alcove with a desk that would serve as 'our' office. We all learned a lot this afternoon. Ms. Zack learned more about our needs while we learned that we'll probably have to adjust our expectations."

"As far as space?"

"Yes, the yards are tiny compared to our old one. I thought if the living areas in houses out here were small it would be because people live mostly outdoors. If they do, it's not in their backyards."

Tim was thinking about something but didn't say anything at the moment. The kids asked to go back in the pool and their parents agreed, asking them to wait for them to change. They quietly thanked Lu for watching the kids and she smiled, "We had a great time! However, I guess I have some jet lag because I can hardly keep my eyes open!"

The five of them went to their suite where the twins danced around the rooms waiting for their parents to be ready while Grama Lu fell asleep within a couple of minutes of laying down on her bed. Her last thoughts as she fell asleep were wondering why she was so tired, she normally dealt with 30 to 40 homeless men, women and children in a single day, some despondent, some drunk or high, some belligerent, others just trying to survive another day. How could 2 little kids, good kids whom she loved dearly, wipe her out?

After their swim, Dee practiced driving their rental van, having never driven the model before. She quickly figured everything out and Saturday morning they decided to go for a ride, taking everyone with them. As pleasant as the hotel was, Lu was happy to see more of the area and she brought several of her reusable shopping bags and two of the biggest insulated bags with cold packs, hoping they'd do some grocery shopping along the way. She put everything in the cargo area, along with Dee's chair.

First, they drove the two miles to Tim's office. Dee smiled, "I like this, you'll be part of the community. Let's look at the rest of the town."

Saturday morning might not have been the best time for a drive as everyone seemed to be out shopping. Spotting a farmer's market, they found a disabled parking space and decided to load up for the week. When Tim took the chair out of the cargo area, he grabbed the bags, too. "Good thinking, Malu! I was thinking about takeout tonight. Don't want to get into that habit if we don't have to."

She smiled, "How about I cook tonight and during the week when you and Dee are at work?"

"Wow, that's great. Let's see how we do. The first test will be the week of the 8th, when we're both back at work. Ladies, we need to find a daycare for the twins before that!"

"For at least a couple of days a week, yes."

He grinned, "We'll tackle that on Monday, start researching them today and tomorrow."

As they wandered through the market, they had fun looking at everything. Back in Virginia, it had been one of the twins' favorite Saturday morning things to do, go to the outdoor market with Daddy. Sometimes Mommy went with them.

When they finally left the market, Tim wondered aloud if they'd left anything behind for other people to buy. The women laughed, as it was true. After what was roughly two days in a hotel, they were hungry for fresh air and fresh food. Tim had already planned their dinner based on the fresh pasta, butter, cheese, farm fresh eggs, fresh spinach, kale, carrots, green beans, peas and other items they'd purchased. Even the twins knew their sandwiches for today's lunch would feature home baked bread with freshly baked cookies for a treat. Dee had a large bag of fresh fruit in her lap and wondered if the toaster oven could be used to bake some of Lu's family-famous apple crisp. She licked her lips thinking about it and then grimaced in mock horror when her husband, kids and mother-in-law laughed.

Back in their suite, they had a delicious lunch, complete with root beer floats, after also stopping at a grocery store for the rest of what they needed. The cookies would keep until later. Tim was excited about a new recipe he'd found at the market, a chickpea sandwich spread they'd have tomorrow. They had a few cans of chickpeas with them, he'd brought his food processor and he'd bought the other ingredients at the market.

Tim was playing outside with the kids when his phone buzzed. He looked at it in surprise, the caller ID was J. Morris. "Hello."

"Tim?"

"Yes, is this Agent Morris?"

"Yes, although I thought we agreed yesterday that I'm Joel as long as there isn't any Brass around. We can drop the formal stuff and please don't ever call me sir."

"Thanks for the warning!"

The other man chuckled. "I heard through the grapevine that you visited the office yesterday!"

"I did, yes. I dropped in to say hello on my way back from your office. I gave them about 30 seconds notice and I didn't stay long. I'm glad I went, now we won't be strangers on Monday."

"That was a great idea and I'm glad you've met them. You're right, it will be easier on Monday."

"Yes. I'm planning to take the team to a firing range, so we can start to get used to our various styles. I'm a lefty; although I qualify shooting with both hands, the left is predominant. Joel, I meant to ask you yesterday, how often do the RAs come in or do they?"

"Draper had them come in about twice a year."

Tim was shocked at that, "Then they must have video chatted every week or something. Are they that busy or was the team that busy?"

"No, your Resident Agents aren't that busy and if the team was busy they could work with the team. I pushed for video chats but I don't know that it happened. It never appeared in any of his, Draper's, reports."

"I'd like to meet both of them and I prefer to have them come to the office."

"Good! It's four hours' round trip drive. That's outside of commute hours. During commute hours, it might be closer to 6 or 7 hours round trip."

"Hm, might ask them to stay over. That would be an opportunity to get to know them better, maybe have a team lunch or early dinner with them."

"Have you read their files?"

"Briefly and that was 2 weeks ago, before my brain turned to Moving mush."

Joel laughed at that. "Had fun, did you?"

"It wasn't too bad, considering, and we sold our house the day before we left, so that helped. My plan is to review all the personnel files tomorrow, that way everything will be fresh in my mind on Monday. Joel, I have another question I forgot to ask yesterday."

"Shoot."

"I heard through the grapevine, the Navy Yard grapevine, that I might have an agency vehicle for personal use. Is that true?"

"Yes, in fact that's one of the reasons I called. Draper dropped it off to be detailed before he left and it's ready. Ms. Camarillo, your new admin, picked it up today and will pick you up at the hotel Monday morning. She didn't get the call that it was ready until after you left them on Friday and didn't know if she should call you before you officially report on Monday. She called me and I told her I planned to talk with you over the weekend. So here we are. I gave her your work cell number so she'll text or call you when she's at the hotel. Expect her about 0745."

"Perfect, thank you!"

"My admin emailed you a packet of information, including the rules around the agency vehicle and how we handle personal use. Have you found a house yet?"

Tim laughed, "I wish! We did look at a few, our relocation agent picked us up here yesterday and took us to see a few places. None of them were right for us. My wife is a paraplegic so we have different needs than most people. Anyway, the agent learned more about us and we learned more about real estate in California."

"Good. And are you getting out and about, seeing your new town?"

"Yes, our rental arrived and we all piled in and drove around town. We planned to drive around the neighborhoods but then we saw a farmer's market and spent the rest of the morning there. Pretty much bought out the place."

Morris was laughing, "Sounds like fun. No beach yet?"

"No, the kids would love it but we three adults are still working off our move fatigue and chasing after them on a beach we've never been to would take too much energy right now. We'll probably go next weekend. My wife works for the DoD and has also been able to transfer. She's taking this next week off and will return to work on the 8th. I suppose she and my mom could take the kids but that means Mom has to do all the running after the babies. Dee's fast in her chair but I don't think anyone can outrun a determined toddler."

"Are they both toddlers?"

"Yes, twins, girl and boy. They're 2 ½."

"Hmm, would you mind if my wife and I drive up to meet and have dinner with all of you one evening? She's originally from Alexandria and loves to meet people from Virginia."

"Sure, that would be great. Just let us know when, we'll be there! Unless we catch a case."

"Good point! You're only about 30 minutes from our place, so last minute changes won't be difficult. Also, plan to come down to the office again at the end of June, we haven't scheduled the date yet. I like my team leaders to meet a couple of times a year, at the end and mid-point."

"That's great! There must be backup."

"There is. We're lucky we have the MCW Field Office right in our midst so we cover for each other, although not their out of state offices. And it's good for our more senior JFAs to gain some experience in running cases and their teams on their own. We also work closely with the local PDs and they're great at providing backup."

Tim couldn't help a bark of laughter at that before quickly saying, "It's great to be away from all the politics."

Joel chuckled, "I bet! I did my probie and junior year in Great Lakes, took a lateral to the Northeast office, eventually became their SFA and then jumped the pond to work in London. I led that team and eventually the office. That was before Naples became the European Field Office. We were in the UK for 9 years before my wife got tired of being cold all the time, so now we're in San Diego where it's never cold. But the mountains are close enough if we want to experience winter. Anyway, I've never had to deal with being in and around DC or at HQ. And you've worked your whole career there!"

Tim chuckled, "It wasn't intentional, it just flew by. I was a case agent for about half an hour before Gibbs TAD'd me to the MCRT the first time. Then I was a Probie for a few days and a week later I made Junior, a few weeks later Gibbs promoted me to a Senior, two weeks later our SFA left and I moved up and 4 weeks after that, here I am. Only it's been 16 years, not weeks, almost 17 counting my year as a TAD for Gibbs/case agent in Norfolk. Somehow, turning 30 is way in the past and I'm over 40 now!"

"Yeah, it goes faster the older you get. I always figure we're all where we're supposed to be. Nothing else makes sense."

"Sounds good to me."

After disconnecting, Tim booted up his laptop, realizing he hadn't checked his email that day, only to see his wife on her phone. Hoping it wasn't her office, he quirked an eyebrow at her and she grinned, signing that it was Ms. Zack with more houses to look at. While she continued on her call, Tim took a quick look at his long list of new emails. Spotting one from Fornell, he opened and scanned it quickly, before Dee finished her call and told him they needed to leave in 5 minutes. Tim marked the message as important and unread so he'd spot it again when they returned.

This time, they decided to follow their agent in the rental so everyone could go. Malu was happy about that and the twins were happy about having another adventure. Back in the van, they found Ms. Zack's office in town, very proud of themselves, and followed her to the first of 3 places she'd found. She'd explained on the phone to Dee that she'd added houses that had at least some accessible features and the configuration and space to bring in whatever was lacking. Dee hoped that meant bigger kitchens, bathrooms and overall space and Tim agreed. Malu put in a hope for more outdoor space and everyone agreed.

The first house had the space, configuration and a few accessible features in the kitchen and master bathroom but neither Tim nor Dee liked the neighborhood. The street was busy and loud, they thought it would be difficult to exit and enter the driveway and the house in back of them was 2 stories to their single story with windows that looked directly into the yard and house. Even though they knew they could find creative ways to give them privacy, they scratched that one off the list and moved on.

The second place was a large condo in what had originally been a 4 unit building. The condo they looked at had started out life as two condominiums which had been renovated into one large unit, bringing all four units together into one. The current renovation was to make the large dwelling accessible and the owners were willing to take on short-term tenants. Ms. Zack said that they'd moved to the area four years ago, in need of some features of accessible life and the condo had been their first home purchase. Now they'd purchased a single family home and knowing how few homes were accessible had decided to add more features to the condo.

With the doubled square footage, it was a huge place as condominiums go, with five bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, a kitchen that would accommodate two people cooking together, a large enough common area that Tim could visualize part of it used as a family room. There was also a fenced patio that was a good size, larger than the one at the hotel. The complex had a pool and a gym that would be included in the rent and there was a walking trail along the back of the building. As the renovation project had only started this past week, which was why they were still able to physically tour the place, it would be close to 6 weeks before it was ready for occupancy. They saw the pool, glad to see children swimming and Dee was happy with the gym while Tim thought he could run on the walking trail.

The neighborhood was fairly quiet, this was the only multi-unit dwelling on the block and there was a daycare less than 2 miles away. Ms. Zack saw the looks of relief on her clients' faces, knowing they could move in here until they found something or perhaps while that 'something' was being renovated.

Back in the rental vehicle on the way to the third dwelling, Lu said she'd liked the look of the neighborhood, everything was well-kept up while still being 'homey'. She'd felt comfortable and could envision taking the children for walks and having her own walks. With the five bedrooms, Tim and Dee could use one of both of the extra rooms for their offices.

They didn't go into the third house. From the outside it appeared lopsided, as if someone had built a small house and then slapped on a disproportionately large addition. And the windows were strange, in different positions and different sizes. Tim thought if they wanted to take on a total gut job, this place might be the one, although the lot was smaller than the other places they'd seen. There were additional problems, the garage was separate from the house, a potential problem for Dee and the driveway wasn't level at any point outside the garage, a real problem for her. When Tim looked over the side gate to the backyard and saw that the back fence was only about 6 feet from the house, he added that the yard was miniscule.

While they'd been looking around, Dee staying at street level, Ms. Zack had received a call. When she disconnected, she smiled, "I've just been told of one more place, if you're interested. It's a foreclosure so I don't know what kind of shape it's in, but we can at least drive by. It's quite a bit larger than you're looking for, with 10 bedrooms, and 9 baths, two private offices, family room, laundry room, dining, living, large kitchen and triple garage. It's two stories; however, the main bedrooms, offices, kitchen, laundry and common areas are on the first level. The basement has several bedrooms, bathrooms and an area that was previously a kitchenette."

She added, "There's a large garden in the back and a fenced p-o-o-l. The house sits on 1 ¾ acres." The adults bit back their smiles at her spelling out the word pool. Tim was excited about the amount of land, although he also had concerns about the property being in foreclosure.

Everyone wanted to see it so they got back in their vehicles and once again, Ms. Zack led the way. Tim smiled as they drove into a cul-de-sac. Each home was on a large plot of land and there was a kind of island in the middle of the broad street with a tall fence and at least two gates with locks on them. They had a few clues as to what the island was about when they caught a glimpse of a large tree with a stairs to a tree house as well as the top of what Tim said was a basketball hoop. Was it a communal playground?

As they looked at the homes, they knew immediately which of them they were here to look at. As Morgan said, "That house looks sad."

Parking next to Ms. Zack in the driveway, Dee decided she'd wait in the car with the twins until someone said it was all right for them to come in – or not. They'd watched enough house flipping shows to know that foreclosed homes could often be a nasty mess inside. Morgan was fine with that, but Johnny fussed. Considering how well behaved the kids had been, Tim raised an eyebrow at his wife and she smiled in agreement. Reaching into the backseat, he plucked his son out of his safety seat. "All right, Angel pie, you can come with me, but you'll have to let me carry you until we see how safe it is."

"That's all right, Daddy."

Lu got out to stretch her legs while Morgan and Dee remained in the car.

When Ms. Zack, Tim and Johnny walked to the front of the house, the pavement was flat. The entryway was also flat, with a wide single door, all good things for people using a wheelchair or with other mobility problems.

The interior was large and airy. While it was dusty, there weren't any bad smells or discarded furniture in the house. Tim and Johnny poked their heads outside the front door and Johnny gestured to come in. Tim put his son down after the little boy promised to stay with his father. They waited for Morgan, Grama and Dee.

The entire interior needed painting, the carpeting needed to be taken up and wood or tile floors put in its place. Tim knew Dee would want the fireplace surround changed, although he was happy there was a fireplace! The kitchen was large enough for at least 3 cooks and had all the lower cabinets, countertops and room for Dee's knees, legs and chair that their place in Virginia had. Tim and Lu were relieved when they found the higher countertops, in fact the kitchen seemed to have three levels of workspace which amused the three cooks. As the appliances were gone, it was hard to tell what had been there but just eyeballing it, Tim thought theirs would fit. The bathrooms were also in good shape and although they didn't have the same toilets as their old place, they could deal with that. The commodes that were there were set for accessibility as were the vanity, sink, shower and tub in the master bathroom.

Dee let out a happy noise as she looked in the closets. There were two walk-in closets and a third, possibly meant for storage. "Tim, look, for my shoes!"

He looked, asking, "That's big enough, don't you think? We can add a couple more shelves along here," he pointed and then smiled at the happy look on his wife's face.

The rest of the rooms, there were 5 bedrooms and 5 ½ bathrooms on the main floor along with rooms that looked like they had been used for other purposes. Each of those had a closet, which made them think their original purpose was a bedroom. Each of the rooms met their standards for size and the private offices and another half bath were in a separate addition in the back of the house. The twins stayed with Dee while Tim, Lu and Ms. Zack toured the downstairs. Entering the finished basement from the stairs, they walked into a large common space. They could see marks on the walls and floors where things had been hung or sat. One of the outer walls had a large fold-down table still attached to it. The basement was set up almost like a dorm with five bedrooms and four bathrooms clustered around the common space. Tim laughed, looking at Malu, "Does this remind you of anything?"

She rolled her eyes, "A luxury version of the 59th Street Homeless Mission!"

"Yeah, we certainly never had separate rooms or this many bathrooms."

"If you buy the house, we cannot say anything about this until your brothers are here. I can just see Freddie talking himself out of coming."

"You're right about that. But we'll fix it up so it won't look so 'shelter-ish'."

Ms. Zack's eyes widened, "How did you know?"

Lu and Tim looked at her, puzzled, "Know what?"

"The previous owners converted this basement so they could take in the homeless. They did that for several years, over a decade, before the neighborhood changed and the new residents complained. They did the renovations themselves, without permits as there was no way they would have been legally permitted to open a shelter here. That was the root cause of them losing the house, although they actually landed on their feet. I'll tell you that story sometime."

She worried when the two, mother and son, wrapped their arms around each other. Eventually Tim looked up, "Malu managed a homeless shelter in Baltimore for many years, she retired a couple of weeks ago. That's where we met, when I was a kid. If ever there was a sign that this house was meant for us..."

Lu sniffed, "We'll have to spruce it up, Timmo, your brothers will know the instant they walk in."

"We'll paint and upgrade, redo the bathrooms. And there will be beds, Mama, no cots, with closets and no communal showers. Maybe we can make platforms for the airbeds. And we'll look for furniture on clearance and at the thrift stores. Let's look at the bedrooms, see what we can imagine."

"All right, I like the sound of that." They walked to one of the bedrooms on the other side of the house and went in. They were happy to see the floors were in good shape, someone had installed engineered wood, easier to keep clean than carpet, and there was one wall painted an accent color. The bedrooms, they discovered, each had what was almost a clerestory window that opened. The rooms all had closets and ceiling fans. They'd noticed the fans upstairs and Ms. Zack explained that helped keep the air conditioning costs down a bit. "We turn ours on in April or early May and turn them off, at least at night, around Halloween. You don't have to worry so much about the rooms down here since it sounds like your visitors will be here in the winter. But upstairs, the windows darken and close themselves automatically when the sun hits them and stay dark until they're in the shade or the sun's gone, then they open again. That also helps. And there's something else you'll see when we go outside."

Satisfied that there was plenty of space and they could easily 'glam up' the downstairs as Lu put it, they returned to the upstairs, finding the twins playing with Dee. Telling her a little about the basement, she nodded at their plans, saying, "I never lived there but Tim, Sarah, Rob, Geo and Joe were safe there for a few years. Bill and Freddie never stayed there, right?" At Lu and Tim's nod, Dee continued, "And sweetie, it gave you enough time to figure out how to survive and get out. Best of all, you met Lu!"

That cheered them up and they happily went outside to inspect the garden and the p-o-o-l. The backyard was huge compared to everything they'd seen today and yesterday. The McGees thought it was at least as big as their backyard in Virginia, which made Ms. Zack smile. There was indeed a pool which nearly sent Morgan and Johnny into orbit. They were all happy to see it was large enough to swim laps and play in, not just a 'plunge' pool as they'd seen elsewhere. Although that would have been better than no pool!

There was a paved walkway running from the house to the fenced pool deck and Tim went inside the fence to look at the pool. The lining didn't look too bad but as he recalled from the TV shows, the pool equipment could be expensive to replace. Ms. Zack was with him and looked up the specs, "This is a salt water pool, which is supposed to be easier for upkeep."

Tim nodded with a smile, "Fewer chemicals." He turned to her, "If we decide to move on this, how do we go about buying it?"

She told him, adding a caution that it could be months or years before the sale went through. He nodded, "Is there any way to get an estimate, a timeframe? And is the price you gave us fixed?"

He turned after he'd asked, noticing the solar panels. "The house is solar powered?"

She nodded and he shook his head, "Wow, this really is perfect for us. I am curious about the island and if this has an HOA."

"Is the presence or absence of an HOA important?"

"Depends on their rules. I'm personally not a fan but for this house, it might be worth it. And Ms. Zack, if this place won't be available for months, then we'd like to rent the condo until this is available. Dee and I have already agreed on that much, that if whatever we want won't be available for more than a couple of months past our paid time at the hotel, we'd like to rent the condo when it's ready."

"Wonderful! Now, I'm assuming you want to keep looking?"

"Yes, of course but it'll get harder when we're both back at work. My hours tend to be erratic. When we're given a criminal case to investigate, that's my priority. Means late nights and shortened weekends, if any weekend, until it's resolved. Of course, that also depends on the type of crime. Dee's not a criminal investigator but she frequently works before and after hours. That's why the home offices are important, although I rarely do any investigative work at home."

"If it comes to that, would virtual tours work better?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Is your work like the FBI?"

He grinned, "It would be, except NCIS, the agency I work for, is smaller and we're much faster on our feet. On my old team my boss has a friend at the Bureau who would dump cases on us if he couldn't figure them out. And we always solved them."

"Isn't NCIS the agency that just arrested that horrible serial killer?"

"Yes, ma'am, that was our agency and my team." Tim couldn't help bragging.

"Your team, you caught him?" She was astounded.

"Yes."

"Oh my, and I suppose I'll have to keep that to myself?"

"Appreciate it, you'd be surprised at how many nutcases arrests like that bring out, putting our families in danger as well as ourselves."

"That's enough incentive for me!"

Before she led them back to the hotel, Ms. Zack told them what they needed to do if they wanted to make an offer on the foreclosure and made sure she had a list of all their questions.

Back at the hotel, they went for a swim, playing in the pool until they got hungry. They decided to eat in again tonight and then tomorrow, they'd head to a beach Ms. Zack told them about. It was family oriented, with lifeguards, they could rent beach umbrellas and chairs there and best of all, it was only a few minutes' drive. Ms. Zack laughed when she said that, "The foreclosure house is about 3 minutes' drive to that same beach."

Lu made their dinner with many of the fresh ingredients purchased at the farmers' market that morning and they all enjoyed it. The twins fell asleep at the table, waking long enough to wash their hands, faces and brush their teeth and to listen to a new story from Daddy. Tim kept it short as he saw their babies having problems keeping their eyes open.

Shortly after, Malu said good night as she wanted to read for a bit. That left Tim and Dee to themselves and they spent nearly an hour talking about housing, buying, renting etc. before they realized they were wasting precious private time alone!

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Gibbs nodded to Fornell as the wheelchair he was riding came to a stop at the main entrance to the hospital. While he felt more like himself, had actually slept most of the time he'd been here, the doctors told him he had a long way to go. After the breakfast at the diner with Vance, they'd left his truck there and driven straight to Dr. Grace Confalone's office. He didn't remember all the details of his time with her but the upshot was that he'd agreed to be admitted to the hospital for treatment of, to start with, sleep deprivation.

He'd been upset that he wouldn't be able to see Tim before they left and even more upset when he was told that he and Tim had become estranged. He didn't understand that and Tobias was the one who eventually helped him remember some of his behavior over the last 8 months. Then he remembered the attack on his home when Ziva returned and everything that came with that, especially her blaming him for not coming to her rescue. He hated being so out of control of his memories and his brain, there were big gaping holes where memories should be and what he did remember was vague and murky. He found this even worse than the last time he'd lost his memory, after Pinpin Pula's explosion. That time, 15 years had been erased. This time, there were memories but often they were vague and, as he kept saying, murky or cloudy. Like he could almost but not quite get at the particular memory.

During the days he was in the hospital, he ate well, slept a lot and had two therapy sessions a day. He was indeed suffering from a recurrence of PTSD which was now re-diagnosed as Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or CPTSD*. That was similar in many ways to PTSD, although CPTSD results from repeated trauma over months or years, rather than a single event. People with CPTSD typically have the same symptoms as PTSD, along with several others.

Gibbs was also treated for his overuse of caffeine and was now restricted to 16 ounces of 'regular' coffee, not the tar he normally drank, per day. He'd been told that if he drank that in 4 half cups, he'd avoid a withdrawal headache. When he asked how long the restrictions would last he was told indefinitely.

When he learned he'd be discharged the Thursday after Memorial Day, he called Fornell, asking to be picked up. His truck was at home, Elaine and her husband had seen to that but that wouldn't help him get from the hospital to home.

As he opened the passenger side door of Fornell's car, he noticed his sea bag in the back seat. "We going somewhere?"

"Yes, the cabin. Thought a few days of fresh air might help."

"Are you staying?"

"Yes, I am."

Jethro sighed, "I'm not allowed to be by myself?"

"No, you're not, because we're worried about you, my friend. It's like everything has not only caught up to you, it's knocked you down and stomped all over you."

"Yeah, that sounds about how it feels, too. How long will we be there?"

"I'm not sure yet. At least three or four days."

"Okay. Let's go then. Did you bring coffee?"

"I measured enough so that you'll have what you're allowed. That's 2 cups a day, just enough to stave off headaches from going cold turkey."

"Yeah, they told me that. And no booze but I quit that anyway. Mostly, still have a beer now and then."

Fornell was surprised but then he'd also quit after Diane's murder. It was too tempting to dive into a bottle and stay there and he couldn't do that to his daughter. She had enough problems of her own.

Arriving at the cabin, they started unloading everything and Jethro noticed that Tobias brought everything they'd need, no trip to town for groceries or anything else would be necessary. He appreciated that, realizing he was relieved not to be home by himself.

As they were finishing, Fornell's phone rang and Gibbs frowned, hoping it wasn't trouble or bad news. Emily had been through rehab and last time he'd asked, was doing all right. She'd returned to school and was focusing on her studies, having missed a semester and a half.

When Tobias disconnected, he smiled, "C'mon, I'm hungry. Want some eggs and toast?"

"Bacon?"

"Uh, no, sorry. It's on the list of forbidden foods and drink I was given. Maybe your cholesterol is too high."

Gibbs shook his head, "I needed the sleep and other stuff but geez, what's the use of living if they take away everything I enjoy?"

Tobias shrugged, "Don't know, Jethro, I struggle with that myself."

Jethro cooked the eggs because he liked his way of preparing them better than Fornell's, while the other man made toast and some tea. Jethro looked at it, "I drink tea but I've never had this kind."

"It's made from pine or spruce needles, Doc Palmer told me it would help with any feelings of caffeine withdrawal."

"From a tree?"

Fornell laughed, "Hey, you eat oranges and apples, they come from trees!"

He got an eye roll in return and somehow that made Tobias feel better.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

It was two days later that Tobias received confirmation of the plan he and Vance had put together while Gibbs was in the hospital. The call on Thursday was from Leon letting him know he'd pulled Ducky in on it too. As he and Jethro were both up early, he suggested they go fishing and was relieved when his friend smiled, "Yeah, that sounds good."

"I brought those chairs so we don't have to sit on the rocks. I know you're rough and tough but my butt just can't handle sitting on hard rock for any length of time."

"I wouldn't want you to feel left out, Tobias, so I'll take one too."

Three hours later, they brought their catch back to the cabin, the fish already cleaned and gutted. As Jethro also felt he cooked fish better than Fornell did, he made a fresh fish, toast and pine tea breakfast.

After they ate, Jethro put his fork down, "When are you going to tell me?"

"Beg pardon?"

"When are you going to tell me whatever it is you think I won't like?"

"Now. When I was away after Diane died, I was at a camp, a retreat, for military, first responders and law enforcement who have problems with PTSD, substance abuse or just life in general. Sacks found it and persuaded me to go. I was there for nearly three months before I felt ready to rejoin the world and the medical folks and psychologists agreed. There are a number of organizations out there to provide help, among them the National Military Family Association, Warriors and Quiet Waters, Save a Warrior, Focus Marines Foundation, All The Way Home, Lone Survivor Foundation and several others. The ones I've mentioned primarily work with former military. The one Sacks found for me also works with Reservists, National Guard, Law Enforcement and First Responders on issues like PTS, suicide, substance abuse, and isolation. It's basically a safe place to go when you've lost hope, to prevent so many suicides."

"Did you have to be there that long and what did they do with you?" Jethro felt safe in saying he wouldn't actively kill himself but he knew that it didn't take a weapon to commit suicide. And while he hadn't thought he'd been close, after his therapy sessions in the hospital he knew now that he'd been closer than he'd believed.

"Length of time isn't predetermined. It was 10 weeks before I felt strong enough to return to my life and the medical folks and therapists agreed. Some people are there longer, some for less time. You may recall Emily staying with Diane's sister. That's when I was away."

"So what do they do? What do you do while you're there?"

"There are health and wellness sessions, therapy sessions as well as group activities. Horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, swimming, even fishing, plenty of physical activities. And good food, no worries about that. I'll give you a brochure in a minute. Now, the organization I went with, the one that includes law enforcement, has three sites around the country. One in Maine, one in Missouri and one in California."

He nodded as Gibbs' eyebrows went up at that.

"You needed a referral and a sponsor, so I referred you and Ducky has agreed to sponsor you. Vance has approved this as a 'special assignment'. The agency is covering your expenses because Leon says that at least half of your traumatic experiences that he knows about have been through the agency. I've been waiting to hear where you're going and when. So, you're going to…," he grinned at Jethro who was trying to be patient, "California and you'll need to be there by June 16th."

"Where in California?"

Tobias told him and his friend smiled, "That's not too far from Tim's new office!"

Fornell shook his head, "You won't be allowed to contact anyone while you're there nor will they be allowed to contact you. You need to focus on your own health and recovery."

"I was thinking about afterward."

"Good! Now, Vance said he'll approve a government flight…"

Gibbs was shaking his head, "I want my truck or car, for after."

"Are you going to pay to have someone drive it out for you?"

"Hadn't thought of that. Figured I'd drive it myself."

"Not by yourself you won't. Jethro, you need to stop kidding yourself about your physical and mental condition. You've been on a downhill spiral for almost 9 months and you've had serious problems over the years that we both know you haven't dealt with. That's taken a toll on you physically, mentally and emotionally."

Gibbs gave him a look, saying, "I liked you better before you got healthy."

Tobias rolled his eyes at him, "Yeah, because misery loves company."

"I still want one of my vehicles out there."

"Then pay for someone to drive it out there."

"You don't want to drive with me?"

"Hell no! I love you like a brother but we know how much time we can handle being together. And several days in the confinement of a car, no thank you! One or both of us would end up dead."

"All right, I'll find a way to get it to wherever I'm going."

"Call Tim's brother, the tall one – Bill. A friend of his is driving a car west for a friend of theirs. Or call a moving company, see how much it would cost to put it on a trailer attached to a moving van."

"I like that idea better. Bill's fine, a good man, but I'm not sure I like the idea of someone I don't know driving my car or truck 3,000 miles without me."

"Okay, so then you're back on the military or government flight."

Gibbs huffed, "Seems appropriate."

"Yeah. You have some paperwork to do but you can do it by hand and then Jimmy will scan it into an email and send it to the organization."

"So I can write it by hand?"

"Yes."

Jethro smiled, "Now that I like, remind me to thank Jimmy. So when are we going home?"

"Monday or Tuesday."

"Monday, have a lot of things to do."

"All right. By the way, you're either staying with me or I'm staying with you until you leave."

Gibbs frowned, "I need to pack. Not just for the camp but in case I decide to stay out there longer."

"That's fine. How about we alternate, a few days at your place, a few days at mine?"

That met with Gibbs' approval.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

When they reached Gibbs' home on E. Laurel on Monday, Jethro stopped after he got out of Fornell's car and stood, examining his home for damages. Tobias winced, remembering all too well the damage done last September and his overwhelming fear of finding his friend's bullet ridden body. It hadn't happened, Tim let him know before he got there. Of course, they hadn't known where or how Gibbs was for too many hours but that was another story.

Taking a deep breath, Gibbs grabbed his sea bag and Fornell his duffle and they went inside. Frowning when there wasn't any mail, Jethro hooked an eyebrow at Tobias who said, "Rick and Jim said they'd handle it."

"Okay, it's probably in here somewhere."

They found a note from Jim O'Brien in the kitchen, "Jethro, welcome home! Rick and I sorted your mail, threw away the junk, saved what we weren't sure about, it's in a box in the kitchen. Tim insisted on paying the bills we found in your mail, he said he and Tony are paying them 50/50, not to worry. There are copies in with everything else. The new MCRT SSA is staying here so the agency will pay the utilities plus some rent for the time she's here. Ask Tobias to talk with you about Dorneget and your house. Call if you have any questions. See you soon, Jim"

Jethro sat down heavily in the nearest chair, "Everyone took care of my stuff for me. Tim and Tony paid my bills? I don't even know how long it's been since Tony and I talked. And Tim…Tobias, do you know what happened between Tim and me?"

"Tim isn't even sure, Jethro, but we can try piecing it together. What do you remember after the Ziva fiasco was over?"

Jethro stood up, pacing around the room. Finally, he said, "There was a kid here, a young boy. Not little but still young. Something happened that involved him."

"Yeah. His name is Phineas and he and his mother lived across the street. I don't know how you met him but his mother was away a lot so he hung out with you. That was after your house was fixed and I think that's when they moved in across the street. You were back at work but you weren't yourself. The terrorist who'd been after Ziva was dead. I don't know all the details, so I'll give you the bottom line. The terrorist woman who was killed when Ziva was here was not who you thought she was, not Sahar. The real Sahar turned out to be Phineas' mother, Sarah. You had to kill her and then you had to tell Phineas. He remembered the names of people he'd lived with before and he lives with them now.

"While all this was happening, you were pretty much leaving your team out in the cold. I only know what I'm gonna say next because Tim was desperate for someone to talk to, someone outside of the agency who knew you, knew your team, would understand and keep his mouth shut and that was me. He'd discovered that Bishop knew months before Ziva showed up that she was alive, but she didn't say anything to anyone. Tim says that was the 3rd instance of her withholding information from you and he tried for months to talk to you about the problem. And yes, I know your rule about keeping secrets but she shared with no one and each of her secrets ultimately had a negative effect on you and/or the team. My personal opinion is that with her track record, she had no business keeping any intel to herself. Hell, Ziva's little adventure almost got you killed and you're still dealing with it nearly 9 months later. If Bishop had told you or Tim you would not have been blindsided when Ziva showed up. It's entirely possible your team would have helped Ziva take the terrorists down without leaving the mess for you or Tim.

"After that, in Tim's words, you stopped listening to him when he tried to talk with you about Bishop. So he did what was within his authority as Senior Field Agent but when you didn't back him, Bishop ignored him. He talked with Tony and with Rick, wanting to make sure he wasn't overreacting and they agreed with him, as did I when we spoke again. Then he went to Vance, feeling very strongly that the director needed to know about Bishop's behavior.

"By that time, the team basically split into you and Bishop pairing up on cases and McGee and Torres. Making it worse, you pulled away from your family, from both men you've regarded as sons, your grandchildren, Delilah and everyone you've been close to, including Ducky and me. I've been busy, so has Ducky but you basically walked away from everything personal, threw Tim and the kids out of your house at one point and they've all been hurting, the McGees, the DiNozzos and the Palmers, although they weren't affected quite as much.

"It kept getting worse until Tim went hunting on Bishop's laptop and found information that led him and Torres to arresting that serial killer, Crandell. Information Bishop sat on for over a month, it was dated the day NCIS was pulled onto the case, from the crime scene witness accounts for the first Navy or Marine victim. Four more people were slaughtered in the meantime and that was Tim's last straw. He went to Vance again. Leon already knew there was a chasm between the two of you. When Tim met with him the second time, he told him what he'd found on Bishop's laptop, he'd already sent him screen prints. He was also there to request a transfer but Leon beat him to it, told him he was promoting and transferring him to an office in Southern California. That was a position that had been abruptly vacated days before and Vance said it's perfect for Tim.

"As you know, they left on the 28th. Tim told me he hopes that by not working together, the two of you will be able to salvage your personal relationship. But Jethro, that's up to you. He'll be there for whatever you need and will stay in touch but, and this is coming from me not him, you need to reestablish contact. Even to let him know you don't understand what happened to you or between the two of you, or between you and DiNozzo, although you should let Tony know that directly. This is one of the things you'll work through at the retreat."

Jethro had his eyes closed, "I don't know why, Tobias. Everything is so murky."

"While we just pulled them after you left the hospital, Ducky and Jimmy have been trying to figure out what's wrong. They believe the problems are partially due to your mental and physical exhaustion and partially the PTS, which we know now has more to it. You're a master at hiding your feelings and your physical condition, but that can't continue, my friend. Not with your family. And if you don't remember, tell Tim and Tony that. I know they'll want to help, to move forward out of this quagmire."

"You think it's related to Ziva?"

"I do, yes. And it may also be related to everything that's happened over the past 20 or 30 years, hell, all the back to your mom's illness and losing her when and how you did. What I learned is that we can bury stuff for years but it will surface at some point and then it all has to be dealt with."

"Have you done that?"

Fornell sighed, "Most of it. I'll always have to deal with Diane's death."

"Yeah, I know that doesn't go away."

"But people do move on, Jethro, they fall in love and remarry, have successful marriages. Just not us. Yet."

Gibbs rolled his eyes and Tobias smiled. That was pretty good, he'd been sure Jethro would shut him down after he asked about Tim.

"Tobias, do you know if Tim and Dee's house has sold yet?"

"I don't but I know who can tell us. Any other questions before I call?"

"Who?"

"Dorneget. He's staying in the house as caretaker. He might be available to stay here while you're away."

"Have to think about that. I trust him, that's not the problem. I don't know yet how long I'll stay in California." He looked at Fornell, "Do the boys know the plan?"

"They know about the plan, they don't know yet that you've been accepted and where."

"I know you said before but when am I leaving?"

"Two weeks, June 16th. Vance has you on a government flight, don't know what, that will get you into the Los Angeles area in the afternoon. Someone from the camp will meet you at the airfield. With me, it was one of the people who worked with me the whole time I was there but I don't know if that's SOP. When you get to the camp, you'll meet the rest of the people you'll be working with and shown to your bunk. You'll have your own quarters until they've set up your treatment plan. Then you might keep that room or move into a cabin with others. I moved about halfway through my stay when I could stand to be around other people for more than a few minutes. They're very careful about with whom and where you're placed.

"That first night, you'll eat separately from the others, by that time you'll be exhausted and won't want to listen to the noise. You'll spend the next day having every inch of your body examined, inside and out and have your first therapy session. The first four or five days you'll be evaluated and observed, to some extent, so they can put together the therapy you'll need.

"Jethro, you will have to talk, to tell them how you feel, what's going on. They'll also learn your body language and I'm sure the whole place will learn your nonverbal signals before you leave!"

"And you're stuck with me until I leave?"

Fornell shook his head with a smile, "Jethro, how long did I stay with you when I was shot? That was at least 8 weeks."

"What are we going to do in all that time?"

"It's only two weeks! One, you need to make arrangements for your house, vehicles, your mail and bills, I'll help with that. If we stay here at your place, you can work in your basement, hang out in your backyard. I thought we could rent a fishing boat and go fishing, maybe head out to Fletcher's Cove. You can see your godfather and maybe visit Pat Cooke at his ranch."

"Fletcher's, LJ and Pat Cooke, great ideas!"

"Leon wants to see you before you leave. He's been pretty concerned."

"I remember having breakfast with him at the diner. He called Dr. Grace and took me to her." Jethro shook his head, "Somehow he and I became friends."

"Been through a lot together."

"Yeah. Tobias, do you know if Tony has been in touch with Ziva?"

"I do not know that. Seemed like too personal and too thorny a topic for me to bring up with him."

"You're right, it would have been." Gibbs yawned, "Geez, I'm sleepy again!"

"That's a good thing, means your body and mind are healing. How about you head upstairs, take a nap? I'll catch up with my email, fix lunch."

Nodding, Jethro walked up the stairs, worn out.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Tim and Dee decided to make an offer on the foreclosed house and move into the condo while they waited for the house. They'd stay in the hotel until the condo was ready in six weeks, adding on a week or two for possible delays in the renovation, and then move in there until the house was available. Unless the house they wanted became available earlier. Even then, they'd probably remain in the condo until the work they wanted or needed to have done was completed. After they purchased from the bank and before they did anything else, they wanted a professional home inspection, including the pool equipment. They knew they were buying the place 'as is' but wanted any problems fixed and any renovations completed before they moved. Tim wanted to install a stair lift so Dee could get to the basement if she needed to. They wanted all of the carpeting removed and engineered wood or wood tiles installed throughout the main floor. And as long as they were waiting to move, they'd have all the window coverings installed.

Moving into the condo in two months meant they would be here in the hotel until the end of July. They hoped to be in the new house before Tim's birthday in mid-November.

In the meantime, Tim went back to his email and read the message from Fornell. He was relieved that Gibbs had spent time in the hospital, catching up on his sleep and detoxing from his routine caffeine intake, Tim smirked at that. Reading further, he was interested in the plan and a little afraid of Gibbs' reaction to it. He thought being isolated and having to concentrate on his health might be too much. However, the message sounded optimistic and he was glad to see it had also been sent to Tony.

Scrolling through his emails again, he found a note from Tony, sent after Fornell's message. Opening it, he nodded as he read, Tony expressed the same concerns as he did. Both had noticed that Tobias' note said that Gibbs had not yet been accepted so he couldn't say when he'd be leaving DC. Tim replied to Tony telling him he'd just read the messages and while he was glad Boss was being helped, he felt bad that neither of them were involved. Tony replied, agreeing but reminding Tim that neither of them were there or in any position to do much good. He added that he couldn't imagine Gibbs ever allowing either of them to do what Tobias and Vance had accomplished. Fornell and Vance were his peers, more or less; he was more likely to listen to them and Ducky once Fornell and Vance brought him in. Tim agreed.

Sunday, the family had planned to go to the beach but in the morning, the skies were overcast and the air much cooler than it had been. When Tim asked the hotel concierge, the woman nodded, "Welcome to San Diego County! In May and June, we frequently have marine fog that cools everything down quite nicely. I know it's a disappointment since you're just arrived but believe me, in July, August and September, you'll be praying for fog to cool us off. The phenomenon is called 'May Gray' and 'June Gloom'." She smiled, "The pool roof was closed last night so it's warm enough to swim."

He nodded, "Maybe we'll take a drive first, we started one yesterday but saw a farmer's market and didn't go any farther."

"It's Sunday, so you'll want to head north or east but not south on I-80. People are returning home from the weekend. Saturday is a better day to visit San Diego or early Sunday morning. Of course, there are other roads."

"Thanks, we'll do that next weekend, maybe take the kids to Balboa Park."

"Excellent idea! Old Town San Diego is interesting, too, and there's a trolley you can take that kids usually enjoy."

The family decided to drive by the daycare the twins would visit on Monday and their parents hoped they'd begin attending. Digging out light sweaters, they got in the car, the children not noticing that their dad stuck their beach bag with shorts, their water sandals and a few towels in the trunk. The folding chairs were already in there. They'd drive around a bit and go by the Foreclosure house to see if they still liked it before heading to the beach for a walk.

The daycare looked fine, Tim approved of the visible security, high fence around the entire property, security cameras and an intercom and view screen at the gate. From there, they drove around town and the different neighborhoods, amazed when they found themselves on the street with the foreclosed house which they still liked. All three adults were happy with the looks of the town and the various neighborhoods they drove through.

They spent two hours at the beach, mostly trying to keep up with the twins who were racing up and down, having a wonderful time. Occasionally they'd stop and wait for their dad, or point out a new something. They knew not to touch until one of their adults was with them, a rule that was frequently repeated to them.

When Tim noticed a paved path weaving along the edge of the beach farthest from the water, Dee decided she wouldn't need her sand tires. While she couldn't keep up with the kids, she could see what they were doing and that was enough for today. All five of them thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

They'd just finished cleaning up when Lu's phone rang. It was Thad, the driver of her car. He'd arrived and was just pulling into the hotel parking lot. One of the first things he said was, "It's been sunny my whole trip, not a single rainstorm and I pull into San Diego County and it's overcast!" Then he laughed and Lu laughed with him, explaining the marine fog and saying they'd be there in about 20 minutes. Then she sent Bill and Barry a text that Thad and her car had arrived safely.

After cleaning feet, legs, hands and the wheels of Dee's chair, they piled into the rental and returned to the hotel, proud of themselves for not getting lost. So far Playa Vieja was fairly easy to navigate, especially with the Pacific Ocean as the western border.

Thad joined them for lunch at the hotel restaurant before he left for the rest of his trip. He laughed as he told them about his trek across country. "Barry must have called a bunch of cops about me! Every day, I'd have five or six or more state troopers, sheriff's deputies or local cops honking and waving at me, with big smiles and thumbs up. It was great to feel safe for once but also a little unnerving. Oh and the motels were great, too, beat the heck out of camping every night! I'd stay in one I liked and they'd make a reservation for me at my next stop. I'm now a member of two motel clubs, for free stuff."

He planned to stay in San Diego for several days before taking the train to Los Angeles and from there, he'd fly to Oakland where he'd board Amtrak for a train ride across country to New York and then south to Washington, DC. He'd seen the southern part of the country on his way west, now he would see some of the northern parts and the Midwest on his way east.

His itinerary gave Tim and Dee a new idea for seeing more of the western U.S., that is, taking the train. Tim said he'd do some research, although their new home or homes would come first.

Back in the suite, while the twins played, their parents called Ms. Zack to talk about purchasing the foreclosed home and somehow reserving the condo so they would have a place to live while they waited for the foreclosure to be available. Reminding them they'd asked for a timeframe, she'd already left a message with the appropriate person at the bank that owned the property. They'd forgotten about their questions and apologized. By the time the call ended, they felt better about locking in the condo. Until they knew more about the house, that was enough. They'd also agreed to keep looking at accessible homes. As their realtor pointed out, you never knew what was going to show up on the real estate offerings and with schools out for the summer the following week, both sellers and buyers would be on the move.

Remembering he had some work to do, Tim booted up his laptop in the master bedroom and pulled up the files for his new staff. His two RA Agents were Garret Jordan and Alex King. Tim read their files, making some notes as he went. His receptionist/dispatch was Lily Tsui, his office manager was Elise Camarillo, and his field agents were Vijay Shah and Cassandra Davis. Tim smiled as he saw the note next to Agent Davis' name that she preferred to be called Cassie.

Only one of them was a native Californian. Cassie was from Washington state, Lily from Colorado, Garret from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Alex from Alabama, Vijay from Iowa and Elise was the California native. He was happy to see he was not the only one married with children, both Lily and Garret were married, Lily had one child while Garret had two.

He turned in early, remembering that Ms. Camarillo would pick him up at 0745.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Tim was in the lobby waiting when his new office manager arrived. He greeted her and looked at everything they passed on the way to the office. When she asked if he'd seen the town yet, he chuckled, "Sort of. I saw a little bit on Friday with Uber. We started to look on Saturday but got caught up in the Farmers' Market. We've also driven around looking at houses and yesterday we went to the beach but when you're driving, you don't get to see as much."

She shivered, "That's true! Can't believe you went to the beach yesterday, it was cold!"

"Yes, but my kids are toddlers, they need to run and play, we all needed to play! We had sweaters, it wasn't too bad."

"How's the hotel?"

"It's nice, we have a suite so there are separate rooms, a kitchenette, a full refrigerator and a patio with lawn for the kids to play on."

"That's good. Staying in one room for any length of time would drive me crazy!"

Turning right at the corner nearest the office, she said, "We park in the back here, it's restricted for use to the businesses on our block and the block below us. There's a back door we didn't show you on Friday. You can't see it from the parking lot as there's also a patio with a 6 foot fence around it. Agent Draper liked being able to get in and out without advertising they were going out on a call."

Tim nodded, "I agree and I know I'll like the patio, too."

Parking, she locked the car before handing Tim the keys. "There you go. The tank is full, we always keep it full. When Agent Draper planned to be away from home on a weekend or when he was on vacation, he left the car here and the keys with Agent Davis. She lives the closest to the office. Also, Agent Farrell will be in at 0830 this morning for the official handover."

"Great! And thanks for the info about the car, I'll do the same."

Now he thought that they probably shouldn't sell his car, there would be times he'd rather use it and not the agency sedan. Or, like Draper, times he'd be away.

Entering through a gate that Tim couldn't see until he was right on top of it, they walked through the patio, which had a table, a few benches and several folding chairs. A shade umbrella stood, furled, in a corner and there were a few plants attached on the fence. Tim smiled, he could see coming out here for lunch, breaks, even just to think.

The door into the office was locked. Tim quickly found the right key and entered with Elise. He smiled at his staff, looked like they were the last ones in. "Good morning, everyone! Special Agent Shah, glad to meet you! I popped in on Friday for a few minutes. I said this to Special Agent Davis then but I appreciate your willingness to be called in on Friday if she needed you."

"Thank you, sir."

Tim chuckled, "No 'sirs', please. I work for a living, just like all of you. In the office, I'm Tim. In the field we're Agent Whoever. That goes for everyone here, we are all a team, Elise and Lily are our inside team, the rest of us are the field folks. Special Agent Shah, the rest of us did this on Friday, but what do you prefer to be called?"

Shah held out his hand, "Either Vijay or Shah." They shook hands as Davis smiled, reminding him, "I'm Cassie or Davis. If you call me Cassandra, I'll think I'm in trouble."

Tim nodded and then looked around, "We're off rotation until tomorrow so I thought we'd do a couple of things today. First, Agent Farrell will be here at 0830 for our official handoff. Next, we field agents need to spend some time together at the firing range we use here. Third is that we have lunch together, all of us, here in town, my treat. And since we are off rotation, let's go out. Any favorite eateries nearby?"

Looking surprised, some of them nodded while Elise grinned, "My favorite is the Flame Tree Café. It's just down the street and has a great menu."

The others smiled, obviously liking her suggestion and Tim nodded, "All right, let's go there. Will we need a reservation?"

"Not really but I'll call ahead so we can sit out on the patio. There are umbrellas over the tables. Aren't you tired of eating in restaurants?"

Tim shook his head, "Not yet. We hitched a ride from DC on a government jet so we were able to bring all our food from home and we have a kitchenette in our hotel suite. We ransacked the farmer's market here in town on Saturday. We've been eating in our suite or on our patio. Lunch yesterday was our first meal in a restaurant."

"A government jet?"

Tim nodded, "Yes, Secretary Porter was on her way to Japan and they stopped in San Diego for a few hours, to keep from having to take a full layover elsewhere. So we flew here with her."

"With the Secretary of the Navy? What was that like?"

Tim smiled, "It was fine, there were only about 20 other passengers aboard. So it was fairly quiet and relaxing and the seats were really comfortable. I don't know how they're normally configured but there are 5 of us and the seats were set up in a group, facing each other, like on a train. The SecNav worked most of the time, although she spoke with us as we boarded and wished us luck when we disembarked. My kids, my mother and I walked up and down the jet as did almost everyone else. They served breakfast, my wife and I played cards but mostly we slept. It's only a four hour flight."

"You know her, the Secretary."

"I do, yes. On the Navy Yard MCRT, you get to know a lot of Brass, whether you want to or not. She's been good to work with. I suppose it helps that when her daughter was kidnapped a few years ago, we brought her home safe and sound and busted the kidnappers. And my former SSA saved Secretary Porter's life one time."

"Is she like the other Secretaries? I mean the ones before her?"

Tim shook his head with a smile, "I worked with two other Secretaries of the Navy and no, she's not usually like them. However, she can be every bit as tough as they were. Now, field team, let me put my things away and do the handoff and then we can head out to the firing range before it gets hot. How far is the one you usually use?"

Cassie replied, "It's about 2 miles southeast of town."

"Ok. Let's plan to leave at 0900. Cassie, Vijay, one of you can drive, I want to see where we're going."

In his office, Tim took out the few things he'd brought, including three family photos, one with Dee, the kids and him playing in their backyard, another with Dee's parents, Lu, Gibbs and the four McGees. If you knew the family, it was an amusing photo as Liz and Gibbs were on one side of the photo with Lu and Charlie on the other with the McGees in the middle. Liz and Charlie's divorce had not been amicable and more than 30 years later, they still didn't get along, except for the sake of their grandchildren. That was the main reason Dee insisted her parents use an online calendar to schedule their visits, so they wouldn't be there at the same time and wouldn't drive her or Tim crazy calling to ask when their ex would be there.

The third photo was Tim with all of his siblings, Sarah, Rob, the Baltimore guys and Geordie, their Marine brother. That was a professional photo they'd had taken for Lu one Mother's Day when Geordie was on leave.

He also had a frame with four team photos he wanted to bring in, but he thought he'd wait until he got to know these people. Slipping a few more things into his desk, he then called his remote unit. When Jordan answered, Tim introduced himself and they talked about what the two agents had going on. When Tim asked him who their backup was, Jordan hesitated, "I haven't asked in a long time, but it would be agents from the LA office."

Tim frowned, "Does that mean you haven't had a vacation or did Agent Draper get someone else in?"

"For personal reasons, I haven't had a vacation, more than long holiday weekends, off in over a year. King has taken his and the LA SSA was notified I might need help then although I've never needed them."

"All right. If or when things change, please let me know and I'll arrange coverage for you. In the meantime, is there anything I can do to help, other than not sticking my nose into your business?"

The other agent chuckled, "You're not and I don't think so but thank you."

"Would it be possible for both of you to come for a visit or would it better for me to go to you? As your new SSA, I'd like to meet you in person."

"Of course. Yes, sir, we can come to the office to meet you."

"On one condition, don't call me 'sir', or I'll be looking over my shoulder for the Brass. I'm Tim or McGee. If we're in the field together, then we'll use our Agent titles."

"Thanks, that's good to know. When would you like us over there?"

"Sometime in the next month, I'll let you schedule the time with Elise. Along with getting to know each other, plan on us reviewing your last few cases. I know you two usually work by yourselves; however, I consider you part of our team. We'll have lunch while you're here and I'll authorize lodging if you decide to stay over and make the drive back the next day."

"Sounds great, Tim."

Tim disconnected, looking forward to meeting his remote RAs. Looking at the time, he straightened his desk, his short-term predecessor Agent Farrell was due in any minute.

Making sure there was fresh coffee and hot water, Tim smiled when Lily buzzed someone into the office. He walked to the front and the two men introduced themselves to each other. A tall, brown-eyed, slim gray-haired man in what Tim thought was his late 50s or early 60s, Farrell smiled when Tim thanked him for stepping up to help out. "As long as it was only for a couple of weeks, Agent McGee. Don't know how on earth you moved across country in such a short time but thank you. You've got a crackerjack staff here!"

Steering him to his office, Tim poured the man a cup of coffee and they spent a few minutes chatting about Farrell's time here. He had some insight on the two remote RAs that matched Tim's thoughts. He said everything had gone smoothly, that the agents and the staff had been professional and friendly. He didn't stay long, once he finished his coffee, he stood, saying, "It's all yours now, I'm off to resume my retirement!"

Tim walked him out and then turned to the others. "All right, Cassie, Vijay, let's get going!"

Checking his firearm, he grabbed his sunglasses and left his office. Checking what was used for an armory here, he decided to take just his Sig and his backup. His last qualification was only two months previous, he'd qualified with his Sig, his backup and the MCRT's sniper rifle with both hands and he'd managed time at the firing range since then.

On the way to the range, he asked how long it had been since the Field Team had shot together and was pleased when Vijay said, "As a full team, about 6 weeks ago. Agent Draper was afraid he'd be too busy with his wedding and then packing to move after that. He instructed us to practice together."

Cassie nodded, "The two of us went about 2 weeks ago."

"That's good, thanks. Next question, have you been in firefights on your cases?"

They nodded and he relaxed a bit, continuing, "I'm a lefty. I qualify with either hand but my left hand is dominant. As a team, that sometimes means a change in our angle of approach."

"Are you ambidextrous?"

"Only with a firearm. When I was a probie, I took up paintball as a way to improve my skills and that's when I taught myself how to shoot with my right hand as well as my left."

"Paintball, huh, never would have thought of that!"

"I was a nervous probie, for various reasons, but I wasn't when I played paintball, so I used that to improve. Once I had confidence in my aim and angles, I wasn't as nervous. I'm also qualified as a sniper should the need arise. I requalified for both hands, Sig, my backup and Sniper rifle two months ago and I've put in several hours at the firing range since then."

The range was easy to get to and the three of them worked together for the rest of the morning. Satisfied that they had an understanding of the differences they'd need to be aware of as a team, they returned to the office.

Their lunch out was fun and delicious. The restaurant was close enough to walk and they had the patio to themselves. Tim tried something new to him and liked it. After lunch, the agents caught up on their paperwork while Tim found the cold case files and got to work.

As he worked, he found his mind drifting to his surrogate father, hoping he was doing better. As one of Gibbs' medical proxies and next of kin, he'd had a long email from Jimmy saying that Gibbs spent several days in the hospital, sleeping, detoxing from the caffeine as well has having many tests and a few therapy sessions. Feeling bad that he hadn't been able to help, Tim was now pinning his faith and hopes on Fornell's plan. He was thankful someone had enough of a handle on what was wrong with his dad to come up with any kind of plan!

On top of that, he was feeling a bit lost in this singular office with this team in a part of the country that was, despite his early childhood, new to him. He diagnosed himself as being MCRT-sick, Navy Yard-sick and homesick. He sent a quick email to Rick and Jim, smiling when they each replied. A few minutes later he had an email from Torres and another from Kasie, both saying they missed him, although Torres didn't actually say that, and hoped his first day was going well.

By the time he began to shut down for the evening, he'd had emails from a few other squad room denizens, even one from Pam Cook.

He walked out with the others at 1700, right on time. Driving back to the hotel, he was relieved that his first day as team lead had gone well. Of course, the real test wouldn't happen until they had their first case but he was confident they'd do fine.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

With Tim back at work and her own return to work looming, Dee was anxious to have the kids settled into a weekday routine. She, Lu and Tim had talked about it several times before Lu finally agreed that she would need time for herself. That settled, on Monday morning she and Dee took the children to the daycare center they'd seen over the weekend. While it was supposed to be a visit, the kids had such a good time that they asked to stay all day. The teachers were fine with that, so after doing all the paperwork, Mommy and Grama left the children, to be picked up later in the afternoon. Back at the hotel, Dee said, "Let's go out for an early lunch and into San Diego for shopping."

Lu smiled, "Yes to lunch. As for shopping, mine or yours?"

"Ours!" With vastly different budgets and interests, it had been difficult for them to find common ground but once they discovered their mutual love of home décor, discount and thrift stores, they were set.

The two took the rental to a restaurant they'd seen over the weekend and wanted to try. After a fun lunch where they too sat outside on a patio, although this one had a creek gurgling in the background, they drove into San Diego. Lu wanted a few things for her room in the condo while Dee was looking ahead to the house.

They had a great time, nearly filling the back of the van with their treasures. Among other things, Lu splurged on a new, lightweight bed covering while Dee found all kinds of things for the future house. She'd never paid much attention to the Southwest or Mexican look but now she decided it would be fun to broaden her horizons from their Virginia décor. They had just enough time to drop off their new things at the hotel, where they stashed them in their storage closet, before they left to pick up the kids.

The rest of the week passed quickly. Tim's new team picked up a case on Wednesday and to the junior agents' amazement, had it resolved by Friday. Having worked on major cases for so long, more 'ordinary' crimes seemed almost too easy for Tim. Or maybe the perpetrator in this case had just been lazy.

In the evenings, the family swam together, either before or after dinner and generally followed their usual nighttime routine. The kids loved the new daycare and were already spouting off names of their new friends. Lu was in 7th heaven, having found a fabric shop and planning to start making Christmas presents.

Wednesday, the moving company called. The truck with their belongings was in San Diego and their vehicles would be delivered to them at the hotel that afternoon. Everything else would, as previously agreed, go into storage. Tim and Dee were pleasantly surprised when the moving representative said that their employers had authorized an extension paying for their storage, commensurate with their housing allowance.

Having their own wheels made even the kids happy. They took photos of the three vehicles and the agency vehicle in the hotel parking lot, sending them to Poppy, Tony and Barry.

Thursday evening, Ms. Zack called to let them know what she'd found out about the condo and the foreclosure. Tackling the foreclosure first, their agent was obviously excited. "I'm sure you felt it was taking forever for me to get answers from the bank! I probably should have warned you. To have my call returned without leaving more than three follow-up calls and in the same week is nearly a miracle and definitely a good omen! All right, so…they're looking at a timeframe of October to sell the house. However, the person I spoke with was almost enthusiastic when I told him I had people very interested and about your qualifications. He said he would inquire about the possibility of moving the sale up to September. That was as far as he was willing to budge.

"That's the house. Next is the condo and the owners are excited about the possibility of you renting from them. Now, after the last conversation we had about holding onto the place, I think the answer will be to offer a deposit." She went on to tell them of her plan, which she believed the condo owners would approve. After some discussion, Tim and Dee agreed to think about it and let her know as soon as possible.

Before they did that, the three adults sat down to talk about their immediate future. While the week in the hotel had been pleasant, all three of them admitted to wanting to be somewhere that was 'theirs' and that didn't feel so temporary. While they had 113 days left of their living allowance, neither Tim nor Dee were sure it was necessary to continue doing so when they could move to the condo in 5 weeks and settle in there for a few months. With 5 weeks to go before the renovations would be finished, the three of them thought they'd be thoroughly sick of living in a hotel by then, no matter how comfortable and convenient it was.

The only 'hiccup' was that they had no idea how much repairs and renovations would cost for the foreclosed house. Looking online, they found several helpful sites and were able to send questions to one of them. The response came in with an average repair cost for foreclosed houses. They knew from their tour that there hadn't been any vandalism or theft. Which meant the A/C unit and the plumbing was intact and no animals had not gotten inside. They hadn't noticed insects either and wouldn't know what to look for as far as structural problems, except perhaps obvious things like cracks in the walls, ceilings or foundation.

All this made them think twice about moving to the condo and paying rent before they really had to. If they stayed here the full 120 days, they'd be in the condo for one month until the foreclosed home could be purchased and then possible another one or two months until everything was done. That would save them a considerable amount of money that they might need for the house repairs. They laughed at themselves for worrying about the work being done before 'winter' set in.

Dee pointed out that with the extended free storage, they'd likely only have to pay for the month of September and any additional time before the house was ready. That meant they could afford to have professional movers when they finally moved into the house. Tim liked that idea, he was not a big fan of moving their things themselves, especially without their friends and family here to help them as they had when they'd moved from Tony's place in Georgetown to Virginia.

After a great deal of talk, they realized they were already settling into the community and that would make living at the hotel easier. Tim thought that if they continued to live here, they could take a few weekend trips, not having to worry about unpacking or packing. When they mapped out their days, they realized their last 'agency paid' day at the hotel would be September 24th. Returning to one of their previous plans, they decided to move to the condo effective September 4th. That was Labor Day, a 3 day weekend, giving them a little extra time to get settled in.

Then they'd plan to be there until Dec. 1st, hoping whatever needed to happen to the house wouldn't take more than 60 days. That would also mean they'd pay their own storage from about the end of September. With them having already taken some of their furniture out when they moved to the condo, they stopped to write a note to make a list of what they'd need, they believed the overall storage cost would be reduced. Plus they'd have the discount the moving company would give them. They'd have one free move and one discounted move.

Tim had one condition for the condo, that the bedrooms with the offices be configured so that if someone came to visit, he or she would have an actual bed to sleep in. When he thought about what he'd said, he added with a smile, "And that will be in my office since I can write in our room but you absolutely need privacy to work."

"You're right! Thank you, sweetie. And don't forget we have that sofabed, someone can sleep in the living room on that."

He grinned at her, they'd inherited the sofabed from one of her friends who no longer needed it. While it was in good shape, it'd sat in the garage, protected from wandering rodents and insects, for the entire time they'd had it. When Ned moved in, he found it and asked them about it. They'd thought about giving it to him but ultimately decided to keep it until they moved into their new home. Now he thought he'd rather have it in his office than their living room. Although the condo was temporary, neither he nor Dee were in love with the sofabed with its deep orange upholstery and couldn't imagine having it in their living room.

Dee found portable partitions at one of the home décor stores she and Lu visited and they'd purchase those in late August, to be delivered to the condo. Tim teased that even if they had to wait a few weeks before the partitions were delivered, they'd have enough boxes they could pull out of storage and use to build a wall. Although he meant it in jest, they thought about doing just that rather than spending money on partitions they'd use for two months and probably never again.

Calling their relocation agent back, they agreed to her idea. "We've had a long, serious talk and decided to stay here through our 120 days which puts us into the first part of September. We thought we wanted to leave sooner but because we don't know the costs for the house repairs, it makes sense to save money where we can. And we've realized we're already feeling like part of the community, with the kids in daycare and me at work. That will help distract us from hotel living and really, how spoiled are we? So, what we'd like to do is rent the condo effective September 1st, although we won't move in until the 4th or 5th. We'd like to rent month to month, at least until we find out how much and how long repairs and renovations will take on the house."

"Great, I'm glad you're looking at it that way. Once I find out what the rent will be, then we'll figure out a deposit." She paused, "I'm happy you're already beginning to feel part of the community. How are the kids doing?"

"They're loving the daycare and the managers say they can continue there as long as we're still living in town."

"Wonderful, that'll be great for them. Now, just in time to help you adjust, there's a community barbeque this Saturday. It's held on the beach you went to on Sunday and it's a great way to meet people and have fun and I'm sure some of the twins' new friends will be there. Although it officially starts at 2:00 PM, it generally runs from sunup to sundown, with plenty of snacks and drinks, culminating in the barbeque feed between 4 and 6. We do this in June after school is out and again in August, just before the kids return to school."

"Great, how much are the tickets and where do we get them?"

She laughed, "My sister is selling them and I'll get them to you before Saturday."

That gave them something to look forward to. That, having settled on a plan and then turning in the rental and driving their own vehicles made them happy, taking them through the rest of the week.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Jethro smiled as he and Tobias left LJ's place. They'd picked him up this morning for some fishing at Fletcher's Cove. Uncle LJ liked that, saying it was too long since he'd had anyone to go fishing with. He'd told them more stories about growing up in Stillwater with Jackson as his best friend and some of the trouble they'd gotten into. How much fun they'd had learning to fly and then realizing they could use their new skills to fight in the war. Later, how hard they'd worked to get their store up and running and how well it was doing now.

That part was news to Jethro and LJ smiled at him. "After Jack died and you gave the store to Cal Frazier, I felt I should connect with him, tell him something of the history of the place. He's doing well, he's expanded out the back, something your dad always planned to do but never got around to. He kept that photo of me and Jack the first day the market opened, it's still up on the wall along with a photo of you as a little boy with Jack and another with the two of you when you went there for that case. He says Winslow's daughter shops in there now! And with the push for healthier food, he's started buying certified organic produce, fruit and vegetables from local growers. You remember Mrs. Kane?"

Jethro nodded, she made excellent cookies, pies and cakes, and LJ continued, "Her granddaughter and family moved back to Bloomsburg from Ohio a few years ago and she has a bakery there. He buys fresh bread and baked goods from them. Smart woman, she named her bakery after her grandmother."

Tobias and LJ were pleased to see Jethro smiling with that news.

Leaving their catch in a cooler with plenty of ice, the three men took themselves out to lunch. By the time they were done, all three admitted they were tired. Taking LJ home, they headed to Fornell's place where they were staying for a few days. Tobias made a marinade for the fish and put them in the refrigerator, Gibbs would grill them for dinner tonight. LJ hadn't wanted any that he'd caught, said the cooks at the retirement home where he lived wouldn't take fish. Jethro planned to freeze a few for him, then he could eat them either here or at his place.

Tomorrow, they'd head to Pat Cooke's ranch for a few days. Pat had plans for them and although Tobias wasn't crazy about ranch work, he wanted to help. By the time they got back, Jethro would need to pack and finalize his plans. They'd already contracted with a moving company for his truck, bed, the recliner he'd given Jack the Christmas before his death, dresser, clothes, workbench, tools and a few other items. Fornell would keep his car in storage at his place. The moving company would also store everything until Jethro was ready to settle somewhere.

Ned Dorneget had agreed to move into Gibbs' home after the new owners moved into the McGees' old home. That answered Jethro's question about the house and he was both sad and relieved as it meant Tim and Dee would be able to buy something else right away.

The new MCRT SAC, Maggie Barnes, had found a place to live and would move from Gibbs' house to her new place about the same time that Ned's care-taking of the McGees' former home would come to an end. Bob Chalmers was now her SFA, Nick her junior and a young woman just out of FLETC was their probationary agent.

Ned was thrilled at being able to live rent-free for so long. Not only was he saving a great deal of money but both houses were a lot closer to the Navy Yard than he could ever afford. At Gibbs' home, he would only pay the utilities and refused any money for care-taking. He'd agreed to it with Tim and the new owners, not really knowing any better but he was done with that. Now that he'd experienced 'care-taking', he was of the opinion that not having to pay any rent was more than enough pay. While he was at the McGees' former home, his belongings were stored in the house and garage. When he moved over to Gibbs' place, everything would go into the garage there, he'd only need to move his bed, clothes and TV into the house. He'd been surprised and relieved when Agent Fornell told him the house already had wi-fi and cable TV, although he already subscribed to a few of the streaming services.

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By Friday, Lu and her family were eagerly looking forward to the barbecue on Saturday and hoped that the fog would stay away. Ms. Zack had heard more about the foreclosure, telling them now that the earliest the house would be available was September 15th. When they disconnected from her call, Dee commented, "We have days off for moving, right? Transfer days."

Tim nodded, "We have 10 days, they doubled that, too. And Labor Day is September 7th, you're off that day. I'll look at the schedule to see if we're working or on call. So, let's say we get the house on September 1st. We'll still need work done and we planned that around staying in the condo until the house was ready. We buy the house as is and as soon as we have title, we have a professional inspection done. Dad handled the one in Virginia for us, I wish we had someone here who knows anything about buildings. You think Bill would be willing to fly out for a few days?"

They laughed at that, this was Bill's busiest time of year and he and his crew always worked every day he could.

"Honey, that's why we're having the professional inspector that Marie's setting up! From what we read online, he or she will likely have recommendations of construction firms." The adults and their relocation agent were now on a first name basis and Marie was Ms. Zack's first name.

When consulted, Bill and Jose agreed that having the inspection was smart, although they told Tim and Dee they might also need to engage an engineer, an architect and to be sure to get estimates from at least three contractors for the work to be done.

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Saturday was overcast when they first got up but by the time they'd had breakfast and packed the van for the trip to the beach, the sun had broken through and the fog was receding. Dee's sand tires were on her chair and they had folding chairs and their own large beach umbrella with them, along with plenty of beach toys and their own plates, cups and cutlery, per Marie's suggestions.

They were glad they were early as there were only three of the ten disabled spots still available. Carrying a few things in her lap, Dee worked her way to the spot they wanted on the beach while Tim, Lu and the kids brought more. Tim and Lu made several trips while the twins stayed with their mom. They'd already slathered on the sunscreen and each had sunhats but were happy when the umbrella was raised, giving them all the shade they needed.

They were also happy to meet Marie Zack's sister, although that happened by accident. As Tim and Lu were carrying their last load to the beach, they saw Marie parking and smiling at them as she stepped out of the car. Calling out, "Hi, Marie!", they continued on their way, stopping when the woman caught up with them. Lu blinked, Marie's hair was the wrong color and style and her glasses were also different! "Oh, I beg your pardon, we thought you were Marie Zack!"

Tim looked and shook his head, "Are you twins?"

The woman chuckled, "Yes. I'm Marcia, her identical twin."

"Ah, that explains our confusion, sorry!"

Marcia Zack smiled warmly, "Don't worry about it, we're used to it and I knew who you were! Welcome to Playa Vieja, Marie's really enjoying helping you find your new home."

Lu noted that her voice was a little different, too.

"She's doing a great job, we know we're not easy."

"Ah, everyone's got their own tastes and needs. You wouldn't apologize if you knew how particular we are! We looked at over 100 homes here before we found one we both liked and that we could renovate to our own tastes."

"That's a lot of home viewing!"

"Yes, neither of us wants to ever move again! And we'd already been through finding a place we could agree on once before! T his is our second place together."

They had a wonderful day, meeting many people and glad to see that some of Morgan and Johnny's new friends from the daycare were there, happy to meet their families. Tim's staffer Lily was there with her husband and daughter who was a year older than the twins. The McGees were very happy to know another local family and Bea, Lily's little girl, invited the twins to play with her and her friends. Tim went with them, returning with a smile, "It's the daycare group, there's plenty of supervision and the kids won't be allowed in the water without us. I signed us up to help for an hour from 2-3."

Dee smiled, "Great!"

By that time, the rest of Tim's work crew had stopped by the McGees' 'enclave' to say hello.

Tim played in a game of beach volleyball while Dee helped referee, then the two of them set off for a roll down the beach. Their children joined them on their way back to their chairs. With the warm day, all five of them got their feet wet although Malu and Tim dunked themselves into the waves and then swam parallel to the shore. After that, Tim rolled Dee and her chair deep enough so that her calves were tickled by the wavelets. She was wearing her floaty as a precaution but the lifeguards on duty worried that she actually planned to swim and asked her not to go out without her husband. Although she'd had no intention of swimming in the ocean, she agreed rather than explain. She and Tim were having fun together and that was enough for her. Besides, she could swim safely in their very own pool.

The kids played at water's edge with their buckets and shovels, helping to build a massive sandcastle with their new friends.

All in all, they each had a lot of fun and met people their own ages, from the twins to Grama! Tim and Dee had a great time helping with the daycare folks for an hour, making sure to keep the kids who were napping in the shade as well as keeping an eye on the older ones. They met several parents and tried to remember names.

Lu was also quite happy. She met people from two groups she wanted to join. One was a walking group, their morning walk started at 6:30 AM to avoid the heat and she decided to join that one. She'd be back in time for Tim and Dee to leave for work, to get the kids ready and take them to daycare. The second was a crafts group who met once a week in the morning; she could do that around the kids' schedule.

She also discovered that there was a community garden they could join and signed the family up immediately, renting a raised bed planting box. They could buy nursery flats of vegetables and plant them now and they wouldn't have to be moved to the condo or the house when it was ready. With everything in a raised bed with drip irrigation, they wouldn't have to worry about watering and with the size of the bed, Dee would be able to work in the garden, too, would be able to reach to the middle. The whole family was excited about their new garden project!

After a wonderful day none of them thought about living in temporary quarters, indeed they'd said hello to a few of the hotel employees also enjoying the community party.

That evening before the twins' bedtime, the family made a list of what vegetables and flowers they wanted to plant and checked to see what gardening tools they had in their storage unit at the hotel. They had trowels, gloves, two small benches for Tim and Lu's use while gardening, they could be used to sit on or flipped over to kneel on, and a couple of plastic buckets. What they didn't find were the tomato cages and realized they'd left them behind. No matter, they weren't expensive and they'd only buy enough tomorrow to support however many tomato plants they bought.

Sunday, they were up early and after breakfast, loaded everything into the van before heading to a nursery Lily recommended. They bought a few more garden tools, soil amendments, weed barrier fabric Lily mentioned, mulch to keep the plants from drying out too fast, as well as a few wooden stakes and netting, to keep the birds and cats away from the food crops. Although they had a long list of items they wanted, they knew they'd have prep work to do. Weeds would need to be pulled, soil needed to be amended and all that took time. Finally they decided to start with 15 plants today, or 3 each. They'd nurture them and return to the nursery for more plants in a couple of weeks as Tim's team was on call the following weekend.

They had a wonderful time selecting just the right plants, a mix of vegetables and flowers and couldn't wait to get them nestled into their new homes. Once they had the tomato plants in the shopping cart, they purchased the cages for them.

Tim wondered about planting the rose bushes in their garden box but they decided it would be too hard on the plants to be planted and then moved again. So far, the rosies, as the twins called them, were doing all right. They had recovered from their trek in the jet and Dee reported that she'd spotted buds on each bush.

It was considerably warmer this Sunday than it had been the previous week and Tim was glad they'd worn summer clothes and had their sunhats and sunscreen with them. When they arrived at the garden, they were happy to find other gardeners there. One of them showed them the new McGee family box and another gardener gave them some tips and answered their questions.

Lu's first question was to ask about deer and rabbits eating their way through the gardens. She hadn't seen any wire fences up, so assumed that wasn't a problem but thought she'd ask. The man she asked smiled, "The property itself was left to the town, specifying use as a community garden. It took the better part of a year to get it cleaned up and to build a few raised boxes. Before the garden was opened to the public, an 8 foot solid wood fence was built around the perimeter, so the deer can't get in. They can jump either jump high or jump far but can't seem to do both. Also, with the solid wood, they can't see what's on the other side, which is also a deterrent. We left it that way for a couple of months to see if any came through but they didn't and still haven't. In addition, fine mesh chicken wire was placed from the bottom of the fence to about 3 feet under the fence so the rabbits, moles and voles couldn't get in. Before we installed the first raised beds, we did the same thing, dug down close to 2 feet to install fine mesh chicken wire. We still do the same thing for each new bed or when we move one to a new location. And we check the fence every month for any signs of damage. We've never had a deer, rabbit, mole or vole incursion! You can see the fence if you head to the edges of the garden and of course the front gate. You'll notice there's a second fence and gate just inside the big gate. That's in case the front gate is left open. It has happened!"

The helpful woman went on to explain that on the East Coast, with rainy and humid summers, plants rarely needed additional water; however, on the West Coast, the opposite was true. Rain between May and October was rare and away from the coast, the air was hot and dry. In addition to the drip irrigation system installed in each bed, most of the gardeners used weed barrier fabric that not only kept the weeds down but along with the mulch, kept the soil and plants from drying out too quickly. The three adults looked at each other, pleased they'd listened to Lily's advice.

Finally, they got to work. First they weeded the entire box. Then using what the twins called their 'claws', multi-pronged gardening forks with varying sized handles that 'clawed' the dirt, they added soil amendments, mixing it in with the soil already there. That was followed by laying weed barrier fabric over the soil, pinning it down with garden pegs, marking where the drip irrigation lines and emitters were and then carefully cutting the fabric, digging into the soil with their trowels through the holes they'd made.

It took them more than three hours to get it all done, including placing the cages over their new tomato plants. They'd also planted flowers known to keep bugs away from crop plants and some because they were pretty. Letting the twins choose the colors they liked was fun and the bed now sported a variety of purples, reds, yellows, orange, pink and blue flowers. All three adults were pleased with the flowers and particularly excited about their new rosemary and lavender plants, with a few sun loving herbs mixed in.

The last thing they did was to spread coffee grounds and orange peels on top of the mulch around the vegetables and the box as a whole, as well as adding long pieces of an old hose, winding around the plants and the rest of the box. Those were all cat deterrents. Coffee and orange peel were scents cats purportedly don't like while the hose would look like a snake and cats do their best to stay away from snakes. As they only had grounds from last night and this morning, one of the adults would stop by during the week to add more.

Then they added stakes around the vegetable patch and attached the netting over all of it, down to the mulch. They hoped that would keep the cats and birds away while the weave was open enough for bees to get through. They added a solid little square of felt from Lu's scrap material over the netting on the tops of each stakes so that if birds landed, their feet wouldn't get tangled in the netting.

With that, they were done with their planting, happy that they had everything planted and that none of their protection devices would hurt felines, birds, bees or humans. By this time, they were tired, hot and happy. At the nursery, they'd also purchased two additional stakes, taller than the others, that they now hammered into the dirt at each end of their box, stapling cardboard signs they'd made saying this was the McGee-Fielding-Morgan Family Garden. Dee did the lettering and the kids drew flowers around it.

Returning to the hotel, they had lunch, changed into their swim stuff and headed back to the beach. Today, they would swim!

That evening, Tim told his wife the weekend had been wonderful and he was beginning to feel like part of the community, confessing he'd been homesick at work during the week.

She smiled at that, "I know, sweetie, me too! It'll take time, remember we've been here less than two weeks! However, I think yesterday and today really made us feel at home. We should stop worrying about living in a hotel and enjoy everything around us. Look at us! We have a pool that we don't have to maintain, 2 gardens, a patio and a lovely suite, housekeeping once a week or whenever we ask, room service, an onsite restaurant and we only have to pay for room service or the restaurant! Most people would be thrilled! We'll be fine here until September, especially if we take a few day or weekend trips."

"You're right and I'm glad we didn't jump in, moving to the condo and paying out money we'll need for the house!"

"Yay us, we did an adult thing! Sweetie, I have to go to sleep, I'm so tired I can barely talk. And I have to go back to work tomorrow, poor me!"

Tim laughed at her as they snuggled into the crisp, clean sheets together. They really were being spoiled.

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As Jethro settled into his seat on the FBI jet, he admitted he was nervous about this whole camp-retreat thing. Physically, he felt better; the time in the hospital, at the cabin, at home, at Fornell's place and the days at Pat Cooke's ranch did him a lot of good. However, he knew from what Dr. Grace, the therapists at the hospital and Ducky told him that he had a long way to go to being healthy again, physically, mentally and emotionally.

He had the drawings Tim and the twins left behind the night he'd kicked Tim out, he'd finally regained a somewhat hazy memory of that and was horrified and worried he'd lost his family. Eventually, he also remembered Tim's last words to him, his last personal words, that they'd always be family and that he would always be Tim's dad. He'd handled the kids' drawings so much that Tobias finally put them in clear plastic bags and sealed them, so he could look but not ruin them.

While he knew he needed help, he wasn't sure he had the strength to go through everything, to face it all. Then he'd think about what Tobias told him, that it was the most painful and the most healing thing he'd ever done and probably the best thing he'd ever done for himself and his daughter. That's why these organizations existed, because there were too many people on the front lines, military, law enforcement, first responders, who, while responding to other peoples' problems, were all too frequently overwhelmed by their own.

He had to do this, for his family as well as for himself. He wondered if he'd be able to mail a letter to Tim. He'd written down the address of the office as well as Tony's address, he planned to put that piece of paper in a pocket every day. And he'd written the addresses in two other places in case he lost it.

Trying to relax, he put his seat back as soon as they gained altitude, glad no one was sitting behind him.

He woke four hours later when the jet started its descent into Los Angeles airspace. Once they landed, he disembarked, carrying his sea bag, light jacket and a pack on his back. He stood outside the building, waiting for his ride. In less than a minute, he spotted a guy his height, about Tony's age. Recognizing him from the photo sent to Tobias, he nodded and headed toward him. The man introduced himself as "Gerry" and took his sea bag. "I got it. Truck's right over there." He gestured with his head, "Have a good flight?"

"Slept the whole way, must have been quiet."

The man huffed, "Lucky you didn't have to fly commercial!"

Gibbs nodded. He smiled when he saw the truck, as old and he bet as beloved as his own pickup. "Truck looks like mine."

"Yeah, it'll run forever."

As they got in, Gerry said, "It's about a 45 minute drive to the camp, mostly due to traffic but also because we're up in the hills. Hope you didn't think we were right on the beach!"

Gibbs huffed, "That's a nice fantasy! My friend's been here and told me it was up in the hills, secluded."

"Good, then you have reasonable expectations! There's a pillow behind your seat if you want to sleep some more."

"Appreciate it but I'll stay awake, like to see the ocean."

"We'll drive alongside it for a few miles before the turnoff."

Gibbs nodded and was relieved when Gerry didn't attempt any further conversation, except to point out a few things as they drove. Remembering that Tobias asked him to send a text when the plane landed, he sent one now, adding that he'd met his driver and they were on their way to the camp.

Fornell hadn't yet started to worry when the text from Gibbs arrived. Relieved, he sent his own text to Vance, Mallard and Palmer, noting that Jethro had landed, met his driver and was on his way to the camp. As agreed, Ducky and Jimmy sat down and wrote an email to Tim and Tony, letting them know that Jethro had been accepted to the camp and was on his way there now.

Reading the email from Ducky and Jimmy, Tim experienced huge relief that Gibbs had agreed to do this and had been accepted. He and Tony exchanged emails, agreeing that this seemed the best thing for their former boss, no matter how skeptical they'd been about his agreeing to go through with it.

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While the McGees and Lu continued to settle into their new community, enjoying their new acquaintances, the gardens, beach, pool and housekeeping, Gibbs underwent what he considered a grueling first week.

He was glad Tobias told him what to expect. At least being poked, prodded, scanned, asked too many questions, having to dig deeper than he'd ever wanted for answers and everything else wasn't a surprise. He was relieved when he was told he'd continue to have his own quarters, that is his own room and bathroom. The bathroom was a nice perk he hadn't expected.

On the down side, something he hadn't expected was that he wouldn't be participating in all the physical activities Fornell told him about, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, until his doctors and therapists agreed he was ready. When he thought about it, that made sense. He thought he knew his strengths and weaknesses but obviously not as well as expected and these people here didn't know him at all and were responsible for his safety. Although he ate with the general population, he didn't interact much with the other guests and no one bothered him about it. At times, he could manage a nod toward someone but by and large he stayed away from everyone but the doctors, counselors and various therapists who were treating him.

By the end of his seventh week there, he was rated strong enough physically and mentally to start participating in outdoor group physical activities. Being told that made him almost giddy with happiness, he'd made progress!

It felt wonderful to ride horses or hike through the hills, to swim, canoe or kayak on the lake that was on the property. It was a beautiful place and he came to thoroughly appreciate the beauty, quiet and peaceful atmosphere while his inner demons were being exposed.

The flip side of the joys of physical activity was, of course, therapy. He cried a lot, more than he had since Shannon and Kelly died, maybe even more than that. He cried for everyone he'd lost, from his mother, his grandparents, his beloved wife and daughter, Marine buddies including Lt. Cameron who he'd held in his arms as he died and Colonel Ryan who'd died months after his diagnosis of schizophrenia, Pacci, Kate, Paula Cassidy and her team – one of whom had been Tim's best friend, Jenny, Brent Langer, Michele Lee, his dad, Mike, Jackie Vance, Diane, hell, he even cried for Eli David, Ari Haswari, both the women called Sahar, Pedro Hernandez and his kids, Paloma Reynosa and Alejandro Rivera. He carried them with him, all of them, their lives, their deaths.

He cried for having to kill the woman Phineas believed to be his mother, for Phineas himself. He cried for almost losing Leon, Amit Hadar, who had died in one of McAllister's schemes, for Jonathan Cole who died trying to disarm Dearing's bomb at the Navy Yard, for all his co-workers who died that day and later, for Luke, the kid who'd shot him to hell and back, and for every explosion he'd been in, every bullet he'd taken, every injury his team had suffered, from DiNozzo's plague, pneumonia and concussions to the dog mauling McGee went through by himself, the injuries he'd suffered in Somalia and elsewhere. He cried for Ducky having to deal with Mr. Pain, having his hand stabbed, almost dying at the hands of the 'meat puzzle' morticians, for Tim having to offer his life to a drug cartel because of Abby's disrespect and self-centeredness.

He carried guilt for all of those injuries and dangers to his team, he'd been their leader. He cried for Ziva, grieving the person she'd been on his team and the haunted, anxious, even more dangerous person she'd become, hiding to save her child. He cried for Delilah's paralysis and his inability to help, for the tortures he and Tim had undergone in Paraguay and for everything that had gone wrong or hurt someone he loved.

And after he cried, he slept, that is after he'd had enough fluid to rehydrate. It was exhausting and he wondered when he would start feeling better or if he ever would. It felt like his soul was being slowly shredded to pieces.

His therapists explained that he'd been holding onto all of that, his grief, anger, guilt, misplaced or real, everything he cried about and more, internally without dealing with it, frequently not acknowledging his feelings even to himself and it had been slowly festering inside of him.

Ziva's return from the dead, the violence at his house and around her, her accusations, subsequent revelations and problems triggered something in him that caused him to back off from everything. The only way he could keep himself going was to shut down his feelings and to back away from everyone. Physically, he'd already greatly lightened up on his drinking, which was a good thing, but his overuse of caffeine via his constant consumption of coffee, his dietary habits and inability to sleep was destroying him.

When he was told that he would have died if his friends hadn't stepped in, he refused to believe that. He could take care of himself, always had.

When he saw photos of him the day Vance took him to Dr. Grace and he was admitted to the hospital as well as the photos taken after Ziva left last year, a little part of him wondered.

As his therapists helped him delve deeper into his long neglected and deeply buried feelings, he began to understand until finally he said the words, "I need to be here. If Tim and Tony hadn't worried about me and if Tim hadn't confided in Leon and Tobias, I'd be dead or dying. If Leon and Tobias hadn't intervened, I'd be dead or dying. I thought killing oneself had to be an active act, gunshot, poison, or at least deliberate but it doesn't. I could have killed myself, let myself die, without understanding what I was doing."

His words, his realization and acceptance were a milestone in his recovery. By that time, he'd been at the camp for more than 22 weeks, five and a half months and the work, his recovery, was just starting.  


Chapter Text

Chapter 8

When Tim's team broke an embezzlement ring their seventh week together, Joel Morris called Vance, "Leon, I have no complaints. However, I am worried that McGee will become bored with us."

"Bored?"

"In the past 7 weeks, he's handled cases that have taken other SSAs weeks, even months to resolve, including murder, embezzling and blackmail. The blackmail was one of his first cases here and it took him, them, 2 days to resolve. The murder took 5 days and he apologized for the length of time! This week, they landed an embezzlement ring and he had the perps' confessions within 3 days. He's whipping through our cold cases, too. If he doesn't get bored, my other SSAs, including my team here, will develop complexes!"

Vance had started to chuckle to himself about halfway through Morris' rant and now he let loose with his laughter. When he finally wound down, he wiped his eyes, saying, "Sorry Joel, wasn't laughing at you. You have to understand that Timothy McGee worked for the toughest agent in the agency for almost 17 years. He knows what he's doing in physically, mentally and electronically cracking cases. The MCRT was the top team in the agency for 15 of those 17 years – took them a couple years to gel as a team. Together and apart they've been our best investigators. And they went through an awful lot together. Their junior agent was assassinated by a Mossad-Hamas double agent during McGee's probie year and oh yeah, Tim was likely the original target. And then Morrow left and Shepard took over, all that took some time to deal with. Gibbs quit for a few months during McGee's second year on the team and that took some reshuffling, although they still finished the year in the top spot. Then, well, I messed up during my first few months as Director and nearly lost the whole team. Several years later, everyone on the team but Gibbs quit. McGee and their SFA were gone for three months and Gibbs wasn't around either. Their second junior never did come back to the agency. They still ranked at the top. They were driven by Gibbs and by themselves. Tim's not likely to relax his vigilance and I'll bet you'll find that his agents will also be crackerjacks when they're out on their own."

"You don't think he'll become bored?"

"Not these days, not with a loving wife and two little kids to go home to. And bonus points to him for marrying one of the smartest women I've ever met; she works for the DoD. He'll be quite happy solving cases and helping families. Do you know his background, his childhood?"

"No. He's in his 40's, I never gave his childhood a thought."

Leon chuckled, "Read his file, it'll give you even more of an idea why he's so driven. Here's a hint, he killed his first criminal when he was 10 years old, threw a shiv from 5 or 6 feet away, straight to the heart."

"A shiv? Leon?"

"He's no more perfect than the rest of us, but he's definitely driven to save people, especially children."

"I should also tell you he's been working with his remote agents and one of them is finally evolving into the agent that Draper and I always hoped he would be. Tim's already put the other one on his promotions list and I imagine his two juniors will be on that as well."

"Excellent! I'm happy to burst your worry bubble. Don't be concerned about Tim getting bored. If he does, let me know and I'll send him more special projects to work on. I miss not having him here for those."

"Special projects?"

"Tell you another time, got a meeting on the Hill."

They disconnected and Joel sat, shaking his head in wonderment. Despite good intentions, he and Carol hadn't yet had that dinner with his new SSA. Now he decided they'd better get up to Playa Vieja before Leon moved him somewhere else. And because he was now very curious. He made a note on his phone to take a look at McGee's file before that dinner.

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Lu and the McGees had a weekend away, they'd driven up to Malibu late Friday night, playing in the surf and taking a look around before they drove home late Sunday morning, ahead of the weekend traffic. They'd planned to go horseback riding up in the hills but it was very hot and none of them wanted to leave the beaches. They decided to save the horses for another time. As usual, they'd stayed in a suite and brought or made their own meals. Now they were happy to have dinner out with the Morrises, a welcome change, especially when Joel specified the entire family.

Their dinner was scheduled for the Friday of the same week Morris spoke with Vance and Thursday night he dutifully pulled up McGee's file. He sat there, glued to the screen, his mouth hanging open at times and muttering to himself. When his wife finally asked what he was reading, he shook his head, "A horror story with a happy ending. I'm glad I knew that much going in!"

"Is that something for work?"

He nodded and she frowned, "A case?"

"No. It should have been but no, this is the story of what happened to McGee, the agent we're seeing tomorrow night, during his childhood."

"Should I be prepared?"

"It's background, it'll be helpful if you know some of it. I have to say I'm intrigued. We'll meet his wife, children and his mother, who moved with them. His wife's name is Delilah Fielding and she's a paraplegic. Back in 2015, there was a terrorist attack at a big gathering, the Conrad Gala, in DC, do you remember that?"

"Yes, people were killed and badly injured. And it was frightening because Homeland called it a terrorist attack. I know from what you've said that we've had more of those but that smaller scale attacks are usually passed off as cartel attacks or something similar."

Joel nodded, "Yes. Tim and Delilah were there, at the party. They'd been dating for several months and when Delilah was told she'd won an award and would be presented with it at the gala, Tim went with her. In the meantime, his team, the Major Case Response Team, was tracking down a specific terrorist." He told her what he could of the phone call to Tim, his leaving the building to get better reception and the almost immediate explosion. "Dee, that's her nickname, was badly injured, that's when she became a paraplegic."

"Oh Lord, that poor woman! And now they're married and have children."

"Yes, twins. And his mother…huh, that's interesting."

"What? If you're going to sit there and make comments, you might as well tell me."

With a chuckle, he agreed, telling her the basic facts of Tim's childhood and how he'd met his mother. Aside from being married to an armed federal agent and living overseas for several years, Carol Morris had led a fairly sheltered life and was horrified that children in the U.S., or anywhere else, had to live like that.

They were both glad they'd had some time to absorb the information before driving to Playa Vieja the next day for their dinner with the family. They were charmed by them, including Tim's mother Lu, his wife Dee, the adorable twins and of course Tim himself. The twins told them all the fun things they'd been doing, their trips to the beach every weekend, their trip to Malibu last weekend and their gardens.

When they finished, Carol smiled, "I'm so happy to hear how much you love your new town! We were afraid you'd be homesick."

Tim, Dee and Lu all nodded and Lu said, "We were but then we started to get to know people, to become involved and we're much better now."

Dee nodded, "We still miss our friends and family. Tim's younger brother Rob is working in London but will continue his residency here, so he'll join us at some point and we're looking forward to his arrival. My dad lives across the border in Arizona, he spent several of our first weeks here with us. It really helped the kids as well as Tim, Lu and me. My mom plans to visit in August and again in December and then Tim's siblings, the rest of Lu's kids, all but two of them, will be here for Christmas."

"How about your dad, Tim?"

"Don't know when we'll see him. He's on a special assignment for the agency so it might take some time."

Lu stepped in to put an end to that line of questioning, "I'm working on Sarah, that's Tim's sister, flying in for Christmas, too. She also lives in London but isn't moving home anytime soon, if ever."

"Does she work in London?"

Tim smiled, "She's completing her Master's degree over there and she's a novelist. Right now, she's working on her 3rd book. Her first one was a bestseller and her second one will be out next month."

"Ooh, what kind of books?"

Dee grinned, "They're fantasies for young adults, teens and up."

"Oh, darn! Although I could try them, I used to read fantasies."

Tim wanted to ask which ones she'd read as he'd written a couple as Zubin Cai but decided this was not the time.

Their dinner was a success, the food was good, everyone behaved themselves, and found common ground other than NCIS. Tim and Joel kept the work talk to a bare minimum, which the others appreciated.

Thinking about the dinner conversation later, Tim couldn't think of anything especially interesting that the twins would repeat. He swore they were like human recorders and more and more he, Dee and Malu were having to watch what they said in front of them. The two would come home from daycare telling their adults all kinds of things they'd heard from other kids. There were a couple of people the three adults hoped they wouldn't run into anytime soon, even while they hoped the kids the twins had heard had been mixed up. In the end, Lu said something to the day care manager about watching what people said in front of little kids and she shook her head, "Thank you for reminding me, it's time for the annual reminder that people's children hear far more than people think and they need to be careful. That old axiom, 'Little pitchers have big ears' is still true!"

In the meantime, the McGees and Lu reinforced what they'd already started to teach the kids, keeping private information to themselves, whether they heard it at home, daycare, at the beach, garden or anywhere else. Then they had to work on what was private information and what was public information. Although, in general, with social media and other internet entities burrowing into people's personal information, privacy was pretty much a thing of the past. However, the McGees were bound and determined that their children would not be gossipmongers, especially with their parents' jobs!

Although they hated to do it, they'd stopped talking about work in front of the kids. They'd never said much anyway, couldn't, but now they basically exchanged only "Everything is fine" comments in front of the kids. Dee privately teased Tim that he could come home with blood dripping down his face and he'd say everything was fine. He smiled, "Honey, I've been doing that for years, since before we met."

"Do you mean you've been injured without telling me?"

"My rule is if Ducky or Jimmy patch me up and I don't have to take time off work or go to the hospital, then there's little need to worry you."

Her eyes narrowed, she did not like that. Tim took a deep breath, "Dee, it's only happened twice since we've been together, not counting Paraguay. One was a knife that punctured my shoe and scraped one toe. It bled for about 2 minutes. Jimmy took care of it and it was healed within a week. I threw the shoes out. The other time was when you were living in Dubai. A bullet grazed my head, barely, but it did take a hunk of hair with it and I had a nasty headache. Ducky and Gibbs took me to the hospital for a scan, I was patched up, they removed the rest of the hair around the graze, put enough antibiotic ointment on it to sink a ship and then bandaged it up. Then Gibbs took me to his barber who cut my hair so it was even on both sides. We'd already had our video call that week and then the next week we were on a big case that took us about three weeks to bust. We spoke but we didn't video chat, I didn't have time. By the time we did see each other, my hair had grown over the scar. I remember you commented that my hair was different and I said I'd wanted to try something different."

Reaching up, she pulled his head to her and he guided her hand to the scar. "I can still feel that!"

"Yeah, it's a little welt. Doesn't hurt though."

Pulling his head down further, she kissed the scar. "If I'd been home, would you have told me?"

"Yes. I was pretty freaked out. Gibbs and Ducky had me stay at Ducky's for a couple of nights and when Gibbs was finally convinced I wasn't going to die, he made me stay with him for, actually I think I ended up staying with him through that whole case. I didn't have time to go all the way to Silver Spring for more clothes, so I just kept washing what I had with me and what Jimmy and Tony loaned me." He laughed, "I remember Abby gave Jimmy money to buy more underwear and socks for me."

"Uh yeah, those aren't things to be shared!"

"They weren't but I only had two pair of each in my go bag plus what I was wearing the day we landed the case, so they had to be washed frequently. We were mostly sleeping at the office or in our cars if Vance kicked us out of the office and I'd wash my shirts, skivvies and socks in the restroom near Abby's lab and then hang them in Abby's office to dry. She brought in laundry detergent, soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes, tooth paste for all of us and hangers, clothespins and two towels for me, one for my personal use in the gym showers and the other one to roll my wet, clean clothes in, to blot the moisture, before I hung them up. Oh, and a fan to help my laundry dry faster."

"Wow. So Abby and Jimmy saw to your guys' care when you were on a big case."

"When they weren't just as crazy busy as we were, yes. And Ducky and Breena did, too. Breena would bring or send in food and a few times, not on that case, I think she was pregnant, but she'd have Jimmy bring home our clothes and between the two of them, they'd wash our clothes. We already had our foam mats, pillows and blankets at the office. Other people brought us food too. The woman who sits on the other side of the MCRT bullpen brought protein drinks in for us. Tony, Ellie and I drank them but Gibbs wouldn't touch them. So we'd split his between us. Lunch we ordered in, when we had time to stop to do that and dinner was whatever was in the vending machines or whatever we had that we hadn't eaten for lunch or breakfast. I think Mrs. Vance even sent a couple of meals in, I remember a casserole that was the best thing I'd ever tasted. Then we started paying people to stop at McDonald's in the mornings so we had real food in the morning and we'd drink the protein drinks for lunch. That worked better."

She shuddered, Tim laughed and that was the end of the somewhat unusual conversation.

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The family thoroughly enjoyed the amenities of the hotel, swimming every day and walking or in Tim's case, running, on the track laid out at the back of the property. The two rosebushes were doing fine, continuing to bloom on the patio.

They managed to get away about once a month, driving east, south or north. One weekend they turned the table on Grandpa Charlie and went to visit him in northern Arizona. In late July. They left at 4 in the morning so they'd miss the traffic and the worst of the heat as it built up. They spent the weekend indoors at his place, grateful that he had an indoor pool! They planned to return to visit him during the winter, hoping they could also see the Grand Canyon then, although it would likely have snow.

In the meantime, they were busy. Tim was proud of his team and the cases they investigated. He was proud of them, proud of the way the team gelled and how they worked through each case. His remote agents were doing well, too. In mid-June, they'd driven in for a visit, one which solidified Tim's impressions of the two. He met with each of them, discussing his observations, his hopes and plans for them and listening to their aspirations. Tim had lunch brought in and the seven of them thoroughly enjoyed it. As they weren't through with their meetings until late in the day, they stayed over, driving home the next morning.

Tim had also enjoyed Joel's gathering of his SSAs at the end of June. He found a few familiar faces, besides Jane Melankovic's, and enjoyed reconnecting as well as meeting new peers. One of his peers pulled him aside to hand him a note from her SFA. Tim grinned when he saw the name, Dwayne Wilson. He said to Wilson's current boss, "Did Wilson tell you how he knows me?"

The woman, Rose Peters, who'd previously worked for Stan Burley in the Rota, Spain, NCIS office, shook her head and Tim told the story of Dwayne's week with the Navy Yard MCRT before he attended FLETC, how he'd saved a case and possibly a few lives by using his head and staying calm. When he finished, he shook his head with a smile, "That was more than a decade ago and to this day, whoever is on that MCRT knows the story of the pre-FLETC newbie who saved the day!"

Dee was also very busy with her team in DC. Many times, she rose early to start her work day at home, on DC time, and once caught up, would sign off to go into the office she used. Although it wasn't exactly what had been planned, she was fine as long as she could start at home and stop working at the end of the DC day. She told Tim that it made things easier for her team and she was relieved that she could continue to work closely with them. As homesick as Tim sometimes was for the MCRT and the squad room, he understood and appreciated her willingness to pull up stakes, to find a way to make it work for her job as well as his.

Lu was also busy, walking nearly every weekday, loving her craft group, establishing friendships with people in both groups and having the kids with her by mid-afternoon. The three of them had a wonderful time exploring their new home, not just the town but the region.

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As busy as they'd been the family was almost surprised when it was suddenly the end of August and time to pack up to move to the condo. They'd been a little worried about the delay but it turned out the owners had decided to put off one major renovation when they thought the McGees would need to move in July. Once they knew about the September date, they went ahead, so the place was now fully renovated and ready for them.

In the meantime, the family had enjoyed the end of summer community barbecue even more than the first one. They not only knew more people, the ocean was much warmer and there weren't any ocean marauders swimming around that day. They had a wonderful time, made even better by having Grama Liz with them.

Liz was charmed by the town, the community and what she could see of the condo and the foreclosed house, which they didn't dare think of theirs, not yet! While her favorite activities were being with her grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law, she was also quite happy sightseeing and shopping in San Diego with her co-grandmother Lu. She also took a coastal road trip with her daughter north to Santa Barbara, spending the night there and seeing the lovely city. Whenever she wasn't traveling, sightseeing or shopping, she could be found splashing in either the McGees' pool or in the wavelets at the family's favorite beach.

Staying several days longer than she'd planned, she was glad she'd already made her flight reservations for her December visit, when they'd be celebrating Hanukkah in the new house! It made leaving a little easier, knowing when she'd be returning. And, as Dee and Tim planned to purchase a climate control dome for the pool at the house, she'd still be able to swim in December!

Between Liz's departure and their last day at the hotel, Tim and Lu visited the moving company and went through their belongings, tagging everything to be moved to the condo. Charlie joined them shortly after Liz's departure, planning to stay to help the family move and settle in at the condo.

Two days before they left the hotel, on September 2nd, they celebrated Poppy's birthday. The kids drew new pictures for him, of the boxes piled up in the hotel room, the boxes stacked in their storage closet, and of the rosebushes. Lu made a cake, Jethro's favorite kind and they took photos of it, sending them to him. Cutting it into slices, they froze most of it for him to enjoy whenever they saw him.

The day they moved, Tim borrowed a large pickup truck from the manager of the business office next door to the agency and with Charlie's help moved everything they'd had at the hotel, including their rosebushes and all the kids' toys. Tim was a bit dumbfounded when he realized how much they'd accumulated since their arrival in June but he soldiered on. Lily's husband arrived to help unload at the condo which helped immensely. The twins spent the day with a daycare friend, where they played and had dinner. Tim and Dee picked them up shortly afterward, with many thanks to the host parents, taking Morgan and Johnny to their new, albeit once again short term, home. They were happy to see their own beds, dressers and more of their toys. After quick baths, they nearly fell into their beds, a late night for them.

Along with moving everything they'd brought with them to the hotel or had purchased while staying there, they had their own bedroom furniture, their kitchen table, large enough for 8 people, their TV and enough of their living room furniture to be comfortable. They left their kitchen appliances, some of their kitchen gadgets, artwork and other furniture in storage. While they weren't looking forward to having to move and unpack again, at least with the hoped-for purchase of the foreclosed house, that would be the last time.

By the time they'd settled in at the condo, they'd been in California nearly 5 months and still had a month to wait before the bank would release the foreclosed house for purchase.

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While the McGees and Lu were busy enjoying their new lives and preparing, at least mentally, for their next and last move, Jethro continued to gain ground physically and was beginning to understand why his physical recovery was key to his emotional and psychological recovery. Once everyone concerned felt that he'd been able to acknowledge his anger and grief for the most traumatic episodes of his life, they slowly started teaching him how to better handle the traumas, how to find peace and be able to move on in his life.

Although it was still very difficult, Jethro was also beginning to interact more with his fellow patients and volunteered for several of the chores around the camp. He helped in the kitchen, the library and his favorite, helping in the stables with the horses. Of everything offered at the camp, he found working with and riding the horses gave him the most joy and the most solace. When he was also allowed to start repairing doors, cabinets, windows and all the other things that can get out of whack in building(s), he loved how good it felt to be useful, helpful and productive again.

With all that, he was beginning to wonder how much longer he'd be at the retreat. He'd now been here 5 months, it was mid-October. They were nearly a month into autumn which at home meant slowly edging into winter. However, he hadn't noticed much difference in the weather here. The nights and mornings were a little cooler but it was still plenty hot during the day, there was no rain, everything was dry and the winds, called Santa Ana winds, were fierce. The entire camp had been on fire watch all summer and he'd heard that they were now in the most dangerous months for wildfire, especially considering the Santa Anas this year. There were fires in California throughout the summer but what they called 'firestorms' here started to break out in late July and continued through October, sometimes November. One week lightning strikes started more than 600 fires through the state and in nearly every region except the cities and larger towns, people packed what they'd need and made arrangements for their animals, pets and livestock, if they had to evacuate.

At the camp in the mountains, they'd also had to pack and soon had a morning routine of carrying their evac bags to the entrance of the camp. Their hiking trails were off limits now, with the hope of minimizing the threat of fire in the immediate area. At first, Jethro wasn't too worried, he knew the camp had been here for almost 40 years, but then he was told that they'd had to evacuate several times, one time the last of the staff were removed by Cal Fire Helicopters. After that, Gibbs paid more attention.

One Friday, the head of the camp announced that they would be taking a brief vacation from the camp. They'd rotate, there would be 10 guests at a time and they would be camping at a group camp in a state park very near the beach. Only the folks who were deemed healthy enough were allowed to go and to Jethro's relief and joy, he was one of them. They slept in tents, cooked and ate outdoors, walking or being driven the mile to the beach. He thoroughly enjoyed swimming in the surf and walking on the beach. His group stayed four nights, returning to the camp early the morning of the fifth day. It was a wonderful break that seemed to do everyone, even the staff, a world of good. As Gerry told him, "For those who weren't allowed to go because they weren't healthy enough, this was definitely an incentive. It's a new program and everyone did so well, we'll probably do it quarterly."

Now, when Gibbs realized they were a month into Autumn, he watched the deciduous trees to see if any showed signs of changing colors but realized that it was too hot and windy. The leaves were drying and curling up and falling, to be carried away by the winds, more fuel for the fires. Used to frequent rain in both Pennsylvania and Virginia, Gibbs wondered when the first rains would come to California. Gerry told him the entire state and likely most of Oregon was wondering the same thing.

As always, he thought about his boys and what they were doing. He'd taken to writing letters to them, telling them what he was doing around the camp, about the camping trip and also including what he was going through. His therapists had encouraged him to do that, to let his family know how he felt, to share with them. Although writing wasn't easy, it was easier than telling Tim and Tony in person. He'd send the letters when he finally left the camp. He prayed he'd be able to deliver Tim's in person. And maybe he'd mail Tony his letter and they could Skype once he'd read it.

While he wanted to go to them, he also acknowledged that he wasn't ready yet. When he admitted to his counselors that he hoped to leave in early November, wanting to be with Tim and the twins for their birthdays, he met with gentle opposition. Apparently it was a fairly common situation where the patient felt better and was ready to move on, while the various doctors were happy for and with his progress but pointed out that he'd just begun to learn how to deal with the traumas he'd experienced throughout his life and he had a ways to go. While Jethro wasn't happy, he also didn't want to go through any of this again. He'd stay.

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While the family enjoyed sleeping in their own beds, or in Charlie's case the guest room bed, having a full kitchen and plenty of space, the adults were looking ahead to the day they'd be able to purchase the foreclosed home. The bank had moved the date around several times, finally settling on October 1st. That was fine with the McGees, they just wanted to know when! Lu had assumed responsibility for working with Marie Tack to line up the property inspector and working with Bill and Freddie to make a checklist to use during the inspection. Tim would also be present.

A little nervous with the frequent date changes, Tim and Dee decided to move the house money to their checking account a week before the sale. Thursday afternoon of the same week, Marie called Tim at work, "They've moved the sale to midnight tonight. You'll need to transfer the full amount to them." She repeated the amount and Tim, once he could talk through his surprise, said, "We're all right, Marie. We got nervous and moved the money earlier this week. Tell me when and where and we'll transfer the money."

"Wonderful!" She gave him more details and Tim disconnected, asking his team to keep their fingers crossed before also disrupting Dee's afternoon with the news.

It was a very long afternoon and evening but they made it to midnight and by 12:30 AM, the house was theirs! The three adults were so excited it was nearly 2:00 AM before they were calm enough to sleep.

By late Friday morning, Lu was on the phone with the inspector, setting up the inspection for Saturday morning as previously agreed. Marie and Tim would also be there while Dee and Charlie would stay with the kids.

Somehow, Tim and Dee made it through their workdays on Friday although neither could have said what they worked on. Tim was just thankful they didn't land a case and he stuck to reviewing cold cases. He had quarterly evaluations to do but didn't trust himself to handle anything critical that day.

The property inspector was very knowledgeable, professional and patient with the new homeowners. Bill, Fred and Joe had given Tim and Lu several tips and they were both grateful they had a clue about anything!

The inspection went well, considering the house had been vacant for over a year. He asked if the downstairs renovations had ever been permitted and Marie was happy to tell him the bank had taken care of that, all the legalities were satisfied.

While the downstairs was now legal, the house was rated as residential only, that is, they could not take in the homeless as the previous owners had. While they hadn't considered the possibility, both Dee and Tim rolled their eyes at the legal statement.

Once the inspector was through, he told them they'd have his report in their emails within two hours and if they needed any recommendations for the renovations or anything else, he would be happy to provide them.

The formal inspection report arrived as promised and after Tim, Dee and Lu read it, they sent it on to Bill, who'd offered to take a look at it. As they'd hoped, their house was in much better shape than most foreclosures although it did need some work. The electrical system needed upgrading, that was already on the renovation list, the roof would need replacing in 3 to 5 years, two of the windows in the lower level/basement were no longer functioning properly and would need replacing. There were a few other cautions, things that would need replacing in a year or more, nothing out of the ordinary and the two windows were the only items that were nonfunctional or broken. He'd made some recommendations that tied in with their planned renovations and those were good to know.

With the large house and property in good shape Tim began to see why the previous owners ran out of money. They'd done their best to keep everything up but Marie said that after they retired and the whole mess about the homeless and the permits blew up in their faces, they'd thrown in the towel and walked away.

When Tim asked if she could get a letter to them from their family, Marie was curious and then touched when he said they wanted to let the couple know who'd bought the house and their background, how they'd known it was meant for them.

Within a few days, they'd hired an engineer-architect for the renovations, per Bill's recommendation, and then Lu took on the task of hiring contractors. In a little over two weeks, the renovation work was underway.

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He'd been counseled and even warned that he wouldn't be well enough to contact Tim on his birthday. No matter, on Tim's birthday, Jethro woke in a bad mood and spent a few hours working it off by shoveling horse manure out of the stables, his own idea. By noon, he was done with the shoveling and the mood and asked what he needed to do to get to the point where he could be in contact with his loved ones. If his eyes were red and a bit swollen, his team was happy to see him admit his feelings and deal with them, rather than bottling everything up inside.

That was another turning point, a milestone for him and he was given the same patience, counseling and dedication he'd been showed all along. Missing the twins' third birthday 6 days later wasn't fun either but by then, Gibbs was working toward his goal of reconnecting with his family.

In the meantime, he wrote heartfelt letters to Tim, Dee, the twins and Lu, with whom he'd had a close relationship before Ziva came to town and blew everything up, literally and metaphorically speaking. From their first coffee together, they'd kept things quiet, not knowing just how 'this' would go. He kept a journal with somewhat sporadic entries and those writings sometimes led to him writing notes to his sons, Lu, Ducky, Jimmy, Tobias, LJ, Leon, his cousin Richard and other friends.

One of his recent milestones had been celebrated by gaining permission for a new and much loved activity, working with wood. He was now allowed to work in the camp's woodshop, along with the repairs he was already handling, and spent his grandbabies' third birthday working on gifts for them, their daddy and mommy, whose birthdays he'd already missed and their grama Lu. While he didn't have any milled wood with him, he did have his own tools, which had been locked up until his team deemed him ready to use them.

Additionally, over the months he'd been there, whether out hiking or on fire clearance patrol which during summer, fall and even now was pretty much the same thing, he'd picked up countless fallen branches and limbs of the trees growing in the area. With the Santa Anas as wild as they were this year, the windfall from the trees was impressive. And of course, the more wood he removed from the wild, the less fuel there was for wildfires.

With his claimed wood, he'd needed to know how to hand mill it and asking the other guests, eventually found someone who knew what to do. Once Jethro had done his best with the wood, he started making a train set for the kids, complete with tracks, an engine and passenger cars with a train station and people waiting.

One of his newer pursuits was learning how to paint artistically and part of that was learning to use natural substances, flower petals, leaves, berries, even bee pollen and mustard powder to make paint. Once the train set was ready, he'd make the paint for each piece. He smiled at his next idea. Instead of him painting everything for them, he'd teach Morgan and Johnny how to make the paint and they could paint the train set together.

He'd been stumped about what to make his younger son, finally settling on a large carved plaque of the word 'Family'. While he worked on it, he decided to give it to Tim and Dee together. He'd figure something else out for Tim. One morning he woke up with the answer for Tim's gift. He'd make him a multiple slot photo frame and put candid shots from his years on the team in them. He knew he had one with Probie Tim's run through a carwash his first year and there were plenty of other photos, from various Halloweens, the 'boys' clowning around in the bullpen and more. As his box of photos was in his truck with his clothes and other items, he'd be able to sort through them. He'd do that frame and then another one of personal shots of Tim through the years.

A while back, he rolled his eyes as his brain supplied the words, 'before Ziva', Lu had helped him track down Tim's school photos, but he hadn't yet done anything with them. He could start with the oldest photo and maybe end with the photo of Tim and Dee holding the twins shortly after their birth.

Making things for his family not only made him feel happy and productive, it also served to start him feeling connected to them again, even if he couldn't be physically around them or in touch with them yet. That in turn gave him renewed impetus to concentrate on his real work, recovery and renewal. When he sometimes experienced doubt and fear that he would not be welcomed back into the family, he did his best to work through those times, asking for help.

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Between work, watching the few repairs and the larger renovations at the house, harvesting their vegetables, planting cool(er) weather crops and more flowers in pots on the patio at the condo and in their community garden plot, experiencing life in their new community, and exploring more of Southern California, October and early November went by at what Tim described as warp speed. Halloween was fun with the kids' daycare hosting a party for the children and their families. The family went as the Hearts with the kids as the Aces, Lu as the Jacq (aka the Jack), Tim as the King and Dee in her wheelchair was the Queen of Hearts. They made her wheelchair into a heart-shaped wheeled throne and then she, Tim and Lu wore regal clothing and crowns. That was a fun afternoon/evening and the family won recognition for the best family theme and costumes. Lu was particularly pleased as she'd made most of their regal wear from used clothing, drapes, tablecloths and fabric she'd found at various thrift stores. From that same stack of materials, she'd made all of the covers for Dee's chair.

A little over two weeks later, they were still eating Halloween candy when they paused to celebrate Tim's birthday, which was fun this year with the surprise (to Tim) arrival of youngest brother Rob! His 3rd year of residency would start December 1st and he'd decided to take some time off in his new surroundings before resuming work. Lu and Dee had been relieved when Rob said he wanted to surprise Tim on his birthday, that would certainly help make his day special, considering the continuing absence of his surrogate father. Rob shared the 5th bedroom, aka Tim's office, with Charlie, although Rob slept on a Cal King Xtra Long airbed.

One of the contractors working at the house offered to teach Tim how to make basic platform beds and they'd made Bill's and Rob's first. When he arrived the Wednesday before Tim's birthday, Rob was surprised and very happy to find his airbed resting on a platform bed that perfectly accommodated the mattress. Tim had sectioned off part of the patio at the condo for his 'workshop' and with Lu and Charlie's help, made another 4 platform frames, one a Cal King for Tony, the rest were Queens with one single bed, for Tali. He had a few more he wanted to make before their Christmas visitors arrived, including one for their Marine brother Geordie if he should ever visit and one for Jethro's room.

Tony had originally planned to arrive in November but decided to wait until the family had moved to the new house, now scheduled for the first week of December. Tali was attending first grade online and would continue her schooling during their visit. Ziva hadn't been heard from in several weeks but Tali seemed to take her absence in stride. At the DiNozzos' request, the McGee family would wait to visit Disneyland until he and Tali were with them. They'd wait until classes resumed after the holiday break. Tony wasn't sure how long they'd stay although he hoped to spend at least a month there.

Next was the twins' third birthday! That was a big deal and they had three parties, one at daycare with cupcakes baked by Grama Lu and decorated by Dee and Tim, one at home with the family, including Uncle Rob, both Grampa Charlie and Grama Liz, calling a truce for the occasion to distract the kids from the absence of Poppy. Their East Coast and UK-based aunties, uncles, cousins and friends attended via various video chat apps. Johnny and Morgan had a blast at all three parties and quite happily told anyone who would listen that they were now preschoolers. While proud of their children, both Dee and Tim felt they were growing up much too fast.

They had a few days after the birthdays to prepare for Thanksgiving. Charlie stayed for the holiday while Liz returned home as she was hosting a holiday feast for her circle of friends in Chicago. Rob was there as well as Vijay Shah and Elise Camarillo from Tim's team, neither had family in the area.

They also had Skype calls with those gathered at the 'Mallard Inn', Ducky, the Palmers, Kasie Hines, Jack Sloane, Maggie Barnes, Bob Chalmers and Nick Torres and another with Lu's Baltimore boys, Bill, Barry, Freddie and Jose, who gathered at Lu's former home. They were early on the call list as they were volunteering at the shelter and would also take Thanksgiving dinners to Nate, Juanita, Big John and whoever was at the camp. They reported that the weather was cooling down and they couldn't wait to join them in sunny California.

Tim, Rob and Lu beamed at them, happy they'd been persuaded to stay for two full weeks.

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With Thanksgiving in the past, the McGees prepared to once again pack up and move, their final move! On the last day of November, Dee, Tim, Lu and Charlie did a final inspection with their general contractor and engineer-architect, finding everything completed to their satisfaction.

Two days later, the moving company packed up the condo and moved it all to the house while a separate truck arrived with everything they'd had in storage. This was it, they were finally home! Tim and Dee took the last of their transfer days off and Charlie stayed to help get everything unpacked and into place. Rob also helped when he could; his work schedule was very tight.

Once the kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms on the main floor were unpacked, the group relaxed a little. The platform beds for the Christmas visitors and the DiNozzos were in their assigned spaces and that's as far as they got for now.

Charlie helped Tim move the family's artificial, pre-lit Christmas tree and several large tubs of decorations from storage in the basement to one of the vacant bedrooms on the main floor. It would go up at some point but not until mid-December, although Dee would start decorating the house before then. While Charlie had planned to return home after the move, he stayed for several more days, helping get the house settled and, with Lu, taking the grandkids to various Christmas events. There were so many holiday things for kids in the area that the McGees printed a long list and then picked 5 things for the children this year. They would keep track and do others in later years.

Charlie left for home the morning of December 11th, the first day of Hanukkah and the day Liz flew in from Chicago. She'd converted to Judaism before her second marriage and continued commemorating the Jewish holidays after her husband died.

Tony and Tali arrived the day after Liz and settled right in, loving the new house and its location. Liz was happy to help teach her grandchildren about Hanukkah and appreciated that Tony and Tim were familiar with the holiday, as their NCIS family had celebrated it with Ziva several times over the years. She was pleased that her daughter and son-in-law had done what decorating was appropriate for the holiday and had everything ready.

Liz was also pleased to find that Tali knew a great deal about the holiday as well as the Jewish faith. She hadn't realized the girl's mother was Jewish and a native Israeli.

When the little girl and her father settled in France, Tony found a school for young children that taught many of the tenets of the faith and Tali, by relating everything she'd learned on a particular day to her daddy, taught him. It also helped that he volunteered at the school.

Young Miss DiNozzo was very happy to be someplace warm and nice, with kids she could play with, even if they were three years younger, and with Uncle Tim, Aunty Dee, Grama Lu and Granpa. She was even happier when Mrs. Liz asked to be her Grama Liz.

She missed Poppy and knew her cousins, dad, uncle and aunt did, too, but understood that he'd been very sick and wasn't well enough to see them just yet. She missed her mother, too, and always looked forward to seeing and talking with her on Skype. She wondered why Poppy couldn't talk with them on Skype but shrugged it off. She had friends at home whose parents didn't have computers or phones with cameras and she remembered Daddy saying Poppy didn't like computers, so maybe that was why. Having been through a lot in her young life, Tali was a very observant and intelligent child. Her Granpa said she was an old soul but she didn't know what that meant.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Despite everything going on, Dee and Tim made time to teach the twins what they knew about Hanukkah before their grandmother arrived. Lu also sat in, contributing what little she knew but mostly listening and learning for herself. All that pleased Liz very much when she arrived, finding the menu planned and the Menorah set for their First Night. She was especially happy this year as Hanukkah would begin and end before Christmas and thus would remain in the children's memories as a separate holiday.

Saturday morning after the last day of Hanukkah, Tim pulled the kids' seats out of the van, placing Liz's luggage in the cargo area. She said she'd had a wonderful holiday with her daughter, grandchildren, son-in-law, two of his brothers and her co-grandmother. Now it was time to go home.

After taking Liz to her departure terminal for her flight home to Chicago and helping her inside with her luggage, Tim and Lu parked the van and walked into baggage claim where the guys would meet them. After 6 months apart, they were excited to see the group. Lu talked with each of them every week and Tim was usually on those calls, too, but as wonderful as video chats are, seeing people online is just not the same as being there in person.

Sarah had finally said no to coming for Christmas, she would Skype with them from London as she'd done last year and hoped to visit next summer. They would have three people missing this Christmas, Geordie, Jethro and Ms. Sarah. Along with her, they'd also Skype with Ducky, the Palmers, Nick Torres, who'd volunteered to work Christmas Day, Kasie Hines, who'd be visiting her family and the Vances, who were spending the holiday visiting friends in Greece, a tradition they'd started the Christmas after Jackie's death.

Lu was very excited to have almost all of her kids together for two weeks! While they'd all miss Geordie, Jethro and Sarah, they were used to missing Geo, he hadn't spent Christmas with them in 9 years. This was their second Christmas without Sarah but it was her choice not to come home. Tim had offered to pay for her flights and she was reassured there was plenty of room in the new house but her answer was still no, with thanks.

Jethro's absence was another matter and they would all miss him. One of the best consequences of his paternal relationship with Tim had been the inclusion of all of Tim's brothers. They'd regarded Lu as their mother for many years and having a father was, or had been, just as wonderful. They'd all missed him during last year's holidays and now it looked like he'd be missing from this year's celebrations too.

Excited about their Christmas trip and that they wouldn't have to deal with snow, ice or what they considered cold weather, the Baltimore group had several things planned, most centered around beaches and/or pools. They talked about Disneyland but decided it would be too crowded over the Christmas-New Years' holiday.

They'd asked Tim if he could take a day or two off to spend with them, already knowing Tony would be available, and after discussing it with Dee and his boss, he decided to take the week off between Christmas and New Year's, in addition to the paid holidays. Alex King, one of his remote agents, would come in to lead the team in his absence. Garret Jordan, King's fellow remote agent, would handle any cases that came into them, with backup from the LA office if necessary.

Tim and Joel were pleased with their plan as King was on the promotions list and this would be great experience for him. Jordan should be on the list, too, but there was a reason he didn't take vacations and that reason also kept him off the promotions list. Over the past few months, Jordan had confided in Tim and together they came up with ways the man could take time off without having to rearrange his and other people's lives. Tim was comfortable with that.

Now, he paced around Baggage Claim while Lu found a seat where she could keep an eye on the escalator. The flight landed just as they walked in, so it would be several minutes before the guys appeared. They knew it wouldn't be much longer when the baggage carousel for their flight started and the first pieces of luggage appeared. Tim watched for any with their names, smiling as he pulled a suitcase off for Freddie and then one for Barry. Lu joined him, remaining with the luggage while Tim watched for more.

He'd just pulled a zippered duffle off with Jose's name on it when he heard Bill's voice drifting down the escalator, "There's Tim!"

He and Lu stayed with the luggage as the guys headed for them. After everyone hugged and Malu had kisses from her boys, they went back to the carousel to watch for Bill's luggage. Once it appeared, they were done.

Tim looked at them, "I'll go get the van, anyone want to go with?"

Barry did so off they went, having a nice chat as they walked. Tim chuckled, "I love the balmy weather here!"

"I know, it feels like spring! Is this as cold as it gets?"

Tim squinted in thought, "Last summer, when I looked up the average temperature for the winter months here, it was 66 degrees. It was 62 this morning when we left for the airport. We took Dee's mom to Departures, she was heading home to Chicago after spending Hanukkah with us."

"Ha, so I was right about spring weather!" Barry cleared his throat, "Uh, Ned said to say hello."

"Great! Does that mean more than hello?"

"Yes, we're dating, well more than that, seriously dating."

"Awesome, Barry! He's a great guy. He should have come with you!"

"Mm, not ready for the whole family thing yet, maybe next trip or when you visit. He flew to Phoenix yesterday to spend the holidays with his grandparents. They raised him."

Tim nodded, "I knew that. Then he's not that far away."

"Tim, his folks don't know he's gay. Let me rephrase that, he's never told them he's gay. That's kind of a double whammy, don't you think? 'Hey, I'm gay and I'm seriously involved with a gay cop and oh yeah, he'll be here in 15 minutes to meet you!' Along with that, he hasn't seen them in nearly a year and we really are trying to take things slowly. He's met everyone but Rob and Geordie and of course knows you, Dee, the kids, Tony, Malu and Gibbs. Speaking of Jethro…"

"Nothing. Tobias Fornell checks in with me every month, always says he hasn't heard anything and that should be taken as good news."

"Meaning Jethro hasn't left - or taken over?"

Tim nodded, "Something like that. I can't even imagine what he's going through."

"Yeah, although I'm glad to know such a place exists for those of us in law enforcement as well as the military and first responders. Sometimes the things we see and have to do…"

Tim nodded, "It's a comfort to me, too, knowing there's help out there for us."

Barry cleared his throat, "I'm coming up on 28 years, thinking about taking early retirement when I turn 50 in 4 years." He chuckled, "Weird thinking about that, considering how focused we were about rising above the poverty level when we were at the camp, in school. If things work out with us and so far they are, Ned and I want to raise a family, adopt a couple of kids. If I retire early, then I can be home with them."

"Wow, that's awesome to even think about, Bear!"

His brother smiled at the use of a very old nickname.

"I know it is, huh? Never dreamed I'd meet a guy who'd want the same things I do and who understands why I am who I am."

Tim nodded, "I get that. I never thought I'd meet anyone who'd want the same things and who understands me. Life is pretty amazing these days, huh?"

"It is, yes."

"Do the others have good things to share?"

Barry nodded with a smile, "Seems like you moving away was kind of a catalyst, a realization that we're not young adults anymore, nor are any of us in any way poor. It's time to move along."

Tim chuckled, "Our motto these past few months has been moving on, but I also like 'moving along' and Ducky's 'keep going'."

"Letting some of our past go. Maybe we're doing in a small way what Jethro's having to do in a big way."

"Because he didn't, couldn't, let go before. Yeah. I sure miss him. Been writing him letters, things that we're doing, what the kids are up to, about having my own team, things I hope he'll find interesting."

"I'm glad to hear that. We've been worried about you, that you'd be angry with him for pushing you away as he did."

Tim sighed, "I have my moments when I'm angry with him. And I know you didn't mean that literally, but he did push me. He physically shoved me at a crime scene last spring. That was toward the end, when I finally started realizing it was time to let go and, as you said, move along. Along with everything else we've been doing since we moved out here, I've been getting some counseling too. One of the conclusions I've made is that part of my problem with Gibbs was me. I was managing the team and wanted to include him in that but couldn't. And I was frustrated because I was ready, more than ready, for my own team. I kind of had that by managing but not really."

Barry smiled, "Congratulations on the realization! Sometimes it's strange to suddenly notice we've done something adult, isn't it?"

Tim laughed, "Yes! Sometimes I think I'm aging backwards as this part of my life is so much better than childhood. Most people I know, outside of our family, seem to look back on their childhoods with fond smiles and amusing stories. We have physical, mental and emotional scars, nightmares and horror stories."

"Most days I think there are more people like that than with happy stories. But we're definitely moving on, Tim. As Ducky says, keep going!"

Finally back at Baggage Claim, they spotted Malu, the guys and their bags waiting outside the terminal, found an empty spot to park and loaded up.

At home, they were warmly welcomed by Dee, the twins, Tony and young Tali, whom they'd only met on Skype. Tim laughed when he saw Charlie had returned. "Charlie, you must have passed us on the freeway, going north while we were headed to the airport!"

"Nope, I stopped for breakfast in town, sent a text to Dee who let me know when you left." He turned to the newest visitors, "Freddie, Jose, Barry, Bill, great to see you again, welcome to California!"

They'd seen photos of the house so weren't surprised by the size, although the renovated lower level was a surprise. And they knew about the stair lift so Dee would have access to every part of the house but hadn't realized that they would have their own rooms, fully kitted out rooms with beds, drawers and closets for their clothes, a window in each room and plenty of bathrooms to share between them, a small kitchen with a full fridge and freezer, a TV with a sofa bed and some comfortable looking chairs nearby and in its own closet, a stackable washer and dryer. There were a few tables with chairs and Bill noticed electrical outlets, so they could use their laptops or charge their devices there. He was especially glad to see that as he had some paperwork he needed to finish for his construction company and get it to his accountant before the end of the year.

Dee rode down on the lift to watch their reactions, smiling proudly at her husband. They'd had a great time planning the renovations for this place and Lu and Tim each commented later that no one said anything about the lower level being a 'luxury version' of Baltimore's 59th St. Homeless Shelter.

Freddie was the one who noticed that the stair lift wasn't the only accessible thing on the lower level. The showers were barrier free, the commodes had plenty of space for transferring, the sinks were lower and in the common area everything would be safe, comfortable and reachable for anyone in a wheelchair.

Dee smiled, "We bought a generator, too, for emergencies. It's in the garage so I can get to it if I need to. The chair lift automatically switches to battery power when the power goes out, so if I'm down here, I can get back upstairs and to the garage for the generator."

"That's great! I see you also did the earthquake retrofit."

Tim nodded, "Yes, we did just about everything. The roof can wait for a couple of years along with a few other items."

Lu gestured to them to follow her and they did, grinning. At the opposite end of the common area, she opened a door, exclaiming, "Ta da! Here's the room you gave me!"

It was a craft room, she finally had the room she'd wanted since she first learned to sew. Designing and equipping it had been a collaborative effort between her boys, her daughter-in-law and a few of Lu's friends who remembered some of the items she'd mentioned over the years. Marie Zack, the McGees' realtor and friend, had also helped as she and her sister had designed their own craft room and gave the designers many ideas and sources.

Lu's surprise and delight when she first saw the room was worth all the effort it had been. Everyone who'd helped but wasn't there for the grand reveal saw the video Dee made. The twins were almost as excited as Grama Lu and had walked around with her, looking into drawers and cabinets, touching everything and giggling at the big surprise.

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Christmas was wonderful, with the twins old enough now to understand more of what was going on, their excitement about Santa Claus, their Granpa Charlie and Grama Lu and most of their uncles there to share in the fun. Because there were so many gifts under the tree, and that was before Santa's visit, the family decided to open one each on Christmas Eve, which would reduce the piles a little bit, and the rest Christmas morning.

After an early and casual dinner Christmas Eve, the group gathered around the tree. Dee and Tim had already removed all the Jethro/Poppy gifts, stashing them in the box with last year's gifts. Lu had singled out gifts she'd made and wanted to be opened tonight. Freddie opened his first, cheering when he found a hand-knit cap, gloves, scarf and pullover sweater all in his favorite colors. Her boys teased her, saying she was obviously missing the snow, ice and cold weather, that is, weather that was really cold, not the balmy temps here. She smiled as the others opened theirs. "No, we're attending midnight services tonight, Charlie's staying with the children, and it will be a little chilly."

They laughed at that, knowing the temps wouldn't drop much below the mid-50s.

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Christmas Day, Jethro woke at his usual time. He didn't want to sound like Ebenezer Scrooge but he would be relieved when this day was over with. The day he'd become accustomed to spending with his family.

Closing his eyes, he tried to remember last year's Christmas, finally realizing he must not have spent it with them. There was nothing, not even a fuzzy memory, nothing.

Shaking his head, he firmly told himself to live in the present and that when he left here, sometime in the new year, he would have gifts, gifts he'd made for them.

Opening his footlocker, he took out everything he'd handcrafted and sat on his bunk, again closing his eyes and this time imagining each face as they opened their presents. The twins would likely be the most excited with the train set! Although all the wood work was done, he'd run out of time to put a clear coat on, in preparation for the twins helping him doing the painting later. That was fine, he'd work on that today along with a couple other things he'd thought of and hadn't had a chance to start.

He laughed to himself, he might have to trade his truck in for that double cab just to get it all to Tim's place! From what he remembered, he and Tobias crammed his clothes and belongings into the large storage area under the hard shell in the bed of the truck and he didn't think there was much room left. There was a little room behind the bench seat and he hoped he'd be able to fit everything in there when he was ready to leave, although he didn't think that would be anytime soon.

Despite that thought, looking at everything he had for his family made him feel better, more connected. Glad he'd worked out his mood, he carefully put everything away again, locking the footlocker and dug out a jacket to wear, it was chilly this morning! That made him laugh again because he was sure the temps were in the low-50s. He'd ask Gerry to look up the weather in Alexandria for him.

He'd been amazed that the staff hadn't left for Christmas. Each of them seemed to rotate taking a few days off but they were all back by dinner on Christmas Eve. Gerry was away most of the week but was at breakfast yesterday morning. He said other staff did the same thing, had an early or late Christmas with family and friends, saying it was too important to be with those who couldn't be with their loved ones.

Jethro was also amazed at how many guests remained. People came and went but most seemed to stay at least three months. He'd tell Tobias that his 10 weeks wasn't unusual, even a little shorter a stay than most folks. He found it interesting now to watch the newbies come in, as angry, upset, hopeless and sick as he'd been and gradually find some peace and return to health.

Now an 'old hand', he helped the new folks get settled in their first couple of weeks. He also still enjoyed horseback riding and hiking. They'd had enough rain the second week of December that fire season was declared done for the year. However, he was told that it would open again within a month if there wasn't more rain. Twice now he'd hiked into areas that had burned in wildfires in the last few years. They looked like an ash covered moonscape. One of the physical activity leaders said they'd go again in early spring to see what wildflowers were blooming. While spring meant late April or May to Gibbs, he was pleasantly surprised to hear that here it could be as early as the end of February through sometime in March.

This Christmas morning, Jethro was surprised and happy when he was told he could have bacon and real eggs with his pancakes. He hadn't had bacon since the day he'd broken down at the diner and the eggs he normally ate here were egg whites only. He was allowed to have a little shredded cheese in with the egg whites and when they had ripe avocados he could also have slices of those, which really helped. He'd been told his cholesterol count was much better, nearly down to where it should be so he could have a treat for the holiday.

When he sat down, Gerry joined him. "Good morning, Jethro, Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas and good morning, Gerry."

He looked quizzically at his primary counselor as he handed him an envelope. "Today's special and it's even harder for everyone to be away from home. Here's a reminder of the people waiting for you."

Jethro's face lit up as he peeked in the envelope, seeing several photographs.
"My family?"

"Yes. And they're fairly new, Tobias arranged for someone to take them, not sure who."

Jethro was looking at them, "Have you seen these?"

"I have not, none of us looked."

"Look at my twin grandbabies, they're 3 now!" He shook his head at how big they were. In his mind, they were still tiny little munchkins and here they were, preschoolers. He blinked back tears as he studied each photo, letting them flow when he spotted Tony and Tali in some of them. "Both my boys! Look, that's my older boy, Tony, and that's Tim next to him. And Tali, Tony's daughter, my older granddaughter, gee, she's in first grade." He frowned, "Strange there aren't any photos of Ziva, maybe she didn't want any taken."

There were 20 photos and he decided Charlie had taken them, mostly because there were none of Liz. When he told Gerry that, the man laughed. "That's the divorced couple who have to use an online calendar to schedule their visits?"

"Yes. And it's easier on everyone, especially Dee." He smiled, "There's another photo of Lu, huh, she must have visited over the summer, too, they're at a beach and look at that, Dee's got her sand tires on her chair!"

"Her what?"

Jethro explained and Gerry nodded. His next question was, "Lu is Tim's mom, right?"

"Yes. Like me, no blood relation. When I get home, I hope to adopt Tim and Tony. Tony will probably say no, his biological father is in and out of his life but I'm pretty sure Tim will go for it. Then maybe Lu will adopt him, too. Be great if the two of us adopted the whole kit and caboodle, there are 9 of them, including Tony."

"You and Lu."

Jethro smiled, "I don't know if she's told them by now but before Ziva showed up, she and I were dating. Taking it slow, dinner, movies, fishing, like that."

"Fishing is a date?"

His smile got wider, "We had our gear with us, I don't think we ever cast a line!"

"Ah, that makes sense. You don't talk about her much."

Jethro nodded, "No traumas involving her! She's a very interesting woman, we have a lot of common interests and she's known Tim longer than anyone but his sister. Well and Geordie, his Marine brother. He, Nate and Juanita met the McGees three weeks before Lu did. I forgot about that."

Gerry got up, patting his patient and friend on the shoulder, "I'm going for more tea, want some of your raspberry?"

"Yes, thanks."

In the last couple of months, Jethro had let go of more than emotional traumas, he'd also let go of his addiction to coffee. Frustrated with the 2 cups a day restriction, he decided to give it up entirely. Now he stuck to herbal teas, with no caffeine. He hadn't made a big deal about it so when he went for his bimonthly checkup and his blood pressure made the doctor smile, he explained giving up coffee. He'd remembered the pine tree tea that Fornell gave him at the cabin and cut some leaves off one of the spruce trees a little higher up than the camp. The tea he'd made from them had kept him from having withdrawal headaches, much to his relief. What he really enjoyed was the doctor's reaction as he grabbed him in a big hug. "That's a huge step, Jethro, huge! Congratulations!"

It was such a big deal that he was recognized at campfire for his voluntary withdrawal from caffeine. With the work the guests did, caffeine had been a mainstay for many of them and to voluntarily give it up was almost beyond the imagination. Afterward, he had a lot of people asking him how he did it. He told them about pine/spruce tea but he didn't tell them where 'his' spruce tree was, afraid it would be denuded of any foliage by too many eager beavers.

As today was a free day, although they were also having a special dinner, Jethro returned to his quarters where he spent most of the day studying his new photos. This had been a good Christmas after all!

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Saying goodbye to the Baltimore family after New Year's was tough but they'd already decided to come back in June, before Bill got too busy and when they'd saved enough for airfare. They hadn't told Lu that, hoping to keep it as a surprise for her. Barry had quietly told Lu about Ned and she and Tim both asked that he join them on their next visit. After asking Barry's permission, Tim told Tony who was as happy about the two as Tim was.

In the end, discretion didn't seem to matter that much. When Tim, Lu and Tony took the guys to the airport for their flight home, they found Ned waiting there for them. He'd changed his flight destination to San Diego and then booked onto Barry's flight home. Tim and Tony's faces lit up when they spotted their friend and between them gave him an almost an Abby-strength hug. Finally pulling back, Ned nodded at them both, "You look good, Tim! I can tell you like it here. And Tony, those little lines between your eyes are gone, you look good, man!"

Tim grinned, "Ned, I freaking love it here!"

Tony agreed, "I like it here, too, and I really like not worrying about…well, you know."

"You mean how we earn our paychecks?"

"Pretty much, yes."

Eventually they said goodbye to the five travelers, smiling all the way home, happy to see their friend Ned.

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With Tony and Tali still in residence, January flew by and the family enjoyed several adventures together, including a bay cruise on an accessible boat so that Dee could safely join them. One of Tim's birthday presents from Dee had been sailing lessons and now he took them over a period of several weekends. He thoroughly enjoyed himself although he regretted that Dee couldn't sail with him. Still, she enjoyed her ride on the bay and they planned to do that again in the spring.

Tim's team had several cases over the next few weeks and as they'd been doing since Tim's arrival, resolved them in near record time. Leon Vance laughed every time he saw the reports from Morris. Joel had finally asked Tim for help in understanding how his teams were closing cases so quickly and successfully. Tim was a little blank on that, he was just doing what he'd been trained to do.

Then he realized there were very few Gibbs' trained agents around. Tony was retired which left Stan Burley, Nick Torres, Viv Blackadder, if she was still a federal agent, and him. Although Rick Carter had been on one of Franks' teams, as had Balboa, so he guessed he could include them, too. And Cassie Yates, while assigned to Agent Pacci for training, had absorbed a lot of Gibbs' training. He smiled as he realized his own agents should also be included.

Finally sitting down and writing everything out took a few weeks but from his full list, he made a checklist and then included the full text for each piece. By the time he'd finished his first draft, he had 50 pages with the checklist, the full text as well as pages of handy 'tips' and the sub-list of Gibbs' rules he used. He eliminated all the lawyer rules as well as rules 6, 23 and 62. He felt #62 didn't have much to do with investigating a crime or teamwork and more to do with not being rude.

He also left off Rule 12 because this list was going to Morris' agents and that was definitely not up to Tim! He did include a rule he'd created,#52, coming right after #51's 'Sometimes you're wrong'. His new rule stated, 'Don't beat yourself up. Acknowledge your error, deal with the consequences if any and let it go.'

After he finished his second draft, he asked Tony to take a look at it. DiNozzo grinned when he saw that Tim had included his theory that the 'spouse, partner, ex, b/g friend' usually committed the murder or whichever crime applied. He also liked Tim's new rule and the elimination of the others. Tony asked to add a couple of things that Tim took so much for granted (thus violating rule 8!) that he'd forgotten to include them.

He also suggested adding a page with advice for 'go bags', remembering the times they'd had to wrap up in their sleep sheets, and bringing swimwear to get some exercise after a grueling day. And enough snacks, underwear, socks and any meds to last a week. He made a note that the longest they'd ever been in the field without returning to the office or home was three weeks and two countries. Tim was glad that happened before he joined the team! The longest he'd ever been away from home and office was 10 days, which was plenty long enough, although they'd certainly had cases they'd worked longer than 10 days!

That led to adding a note about what they kept in the office as far as airbeds, blankets, pillows, clean clothes and food. That note had an asterisk by it saying that working straight through without sleep breaks was no longer allowed but that sleep breaks could still be rotated amongst team members.

When Joel received Tim's fourth draft, ready for his comments, his mouth dropped open the second page in and stayed that way until he got to the pages with the go bag and sleeping in the office information. Then he laughed himself silly.

Although Tony had been reluctant to visit Tim's office when he first arrived, by January he couldn't contain his curiosity and came in for lunch. That was fun and enlightening as he saw how Tim operated as a Team Lead and head of an office. Yes, he reported to a larger office but day to day, he was the one in charge.

DiNozzo couldn't believe how many old cases he remembered and without a case that day not a lot of work got done. Tim didn't mind, his folks deserved a break every now and then and he remembered being a young junior and hanging onto every word of more experienced agents. There were stories he hadn't told, cases that Tony talked about that day, his rescue by his Probie at the parking garage which was, ironically, the same case where Tim balked at climbing a ladder from a rooftop to a higher level, and a few others.

McGee was thankful his former SFA didn't bring up Kate's murder, Somalia or Parson's witch hunt. When one of the agents asked if they'd been at the Navy Yard during the bombing, they looked at each other, shaking their heads and saying they'd rather not talk about it. Tim added, "We lost friends and colleagues and none of our team escaped without injuries."

"Ok, but someone brought the bomber down, right?"

Tim nodded, saying only, "With extreme prejudice, orders from the top."

Tony didn't comment or even blink at Tim neglecting to mention Gibbs' name or even to talk about Dearing. He knew he must have his reasons, he'd ask later.

By the time they were done with the stories and chatting, it was close enough to quitting time that Tim let them go early, having Lily roll the phone to his cell. While he didn't make a habit of it, he gave them a break once in a while, letting them know his appreciation for their work.

That evening, Tim told Tony that he wasn't comfortable talking about what Dearing or any bad guy did, or his motives, not wanting to glorify or somehow justify their actions and that he was also afraid that killing Dearing at close quarters with his knife might be one of Gibbs' traumas. He didn't want to risk any of his team asking questions when Gibbs came home. Tony smiled at that, loving his brother's faith that their surrogate father would come home to them.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

Originally planning to stay until the end of January, when Ducky and the Palmers made plans to visit during Victoria's February winter break, Tony and Tali decided to stay a few more weeks. Tali hoped they could stay until it got warm again at home. Tony thought two months as house guests was excessive, to say the least. He pitched in where he could, including the twins in his outings with Tali, helping cook meals, grocery shop, clean house, do laundry, mow the back lawn and other chores. Lu finally pulled him aside, "Tony, we love you and Tali, love having both of you here, you can stay forever as far as we're concerned!"

The first time Tim saw Tony using a vacuum cleaner, his mouth dropped open and stayed that way until Tony tapped his chin. "C'mon, I'm a single dad who can't risk having strangers in the house to clean or cook." He shrugged with a self-deprecating look, "I called my dad's former housekeeper Francine York, she's retired now, asking her for a list of things I should be doing around the house. When she heard we were living in France, she offered to come teach me. I paid her airfare and she stayed with us for six weeks while she taught me how to keep house and saw the sights of Paris. It was really good for Tali to have someone else around. Francine helped raise me and she told Tali a number of little Tony stories as well as giving me some tips about raising a little girl. I wanted her to stay but I didn't want to put her in danger from anyone in Ziva's world. So she went home to Florida. We'll stop to see her for a few days on our way home from here."

Lu nodded with a smile, "That was a great idea, Tony, to involve her and I'm sure she'll love seeing you again."

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

January rolled into February and the McGee and DiNozzo families began to get excited about the Mallard-Palmers' arrival. They already had their visit to Disney planned. They'd drive up the night before, staying at the Disneyland Resort so they could partake of the Extra Magical Hour, among other perks. They'd stay at least one, possibly two additional nights, depending on how many other venues they wanted to visit. Legoland was on the top of the list, after Disneyland itself and that was followed by Disney California Adventures. They had several rooms booked, with some shares and some singles. The McGees had an accessible suite and Tali would share with the twins while the Palmers would have a suite with a separate bedroom for Victoria and Davey, Lu would have her own room, Charlie and Ducky would share as would Tony and Dr. Rob, who was almost as excited as the children would be when they were told.

The day of the Mallard-Palmers' arrival, Tim worked all day, saving a day of leave which seemed to disappear a lot faster here than they did in DC, while Dee and Tony drove to the airport to pick up the visitors. The kids wanted to go along but Dee thought the van would be too crowded.

Tony rode shotgun while Dee drove. As they drove to the Arrivals area, he spotted Jimmy pushing a luggage cart out from Baggage Claim. Breena, two little kids and Ducky followed. Waving his arms, Tony got their attention while Dee found a place to park. She stayed in the van while Tony greeted their friends and then helped Jimmy load the luggage in the back cargo van. They'd left one twin's and Tali's safety seat as Davey fit the twin seat and Victoria fit into Tali's. Before they climbed in the van, Dee greeted each adult with a hug from her driver's side window. Ducky sat up front with Dee while Breena, Jimmy and Tony sat in back of the kids.

Back at the house, the visitors were suitably impressed with the new place, appreciating the different style from the house in Virginia and their own homes. The luggage was moved into the visitors' rooms and Lu, the twins and Tali happily greeted everyone. At first, Tali was a little shy with Aunt Breena and Uncle Jimmy as she didn't know them as well as Uncle Tim and Aunt Dee. However, she and Victoria remembered that they were the same age and had fun talking about school and their adventures.

Davey was also now 3, just 2 months younger than the twins. The trio had known each other since Davey's arrival at the Palmers when he was 6 months old, and he was very happy to be reunited with his playmates. Of everyone who missed the McGees when they moved, Davey was the most unhappy. He and the twins were best friends, their parents occasionally referred to them as the triplets, even attending the same daycare and no matter how many times his parents and Granducky explained it to him, the little boy had been nearly inconsolable when his besties left without him. It took many video chats to help the three get used to being physically apart.

Ducky was relieved and happy to be here with his McGee and DiNozzo families, grateful Tony and Tali had decided to stay for their visit. He would stay in Jethro's room while Jimmy and Breena would stay in Grama Liz's room. Victoria would share Tali's room while Davey would bunk in with the twins. Their parents weren't sure the kids would sleep at all but decided to give it a try.

When Tim got home late that afternoon, he found Ducky asleep in one of the recliners in the family room and heard muffled sounds from the backyard. He knew those sounds well, everyone but Ducky was in the pool which was covered by a climate control dome. Gently kissing the top of Ducky's head, Tim quickly checked the 2 slow cookers in the kitchen, noticing the last of the ingredients had been added and dinner would be ready in an hour. Good, that gave him time to say hello to everyone and hopefully to have a swim. Changing into one of his swim suits, he grabbed a robe, a towel, shoved his feet into flip flops and headed for the pool.

Laughing at the mob scene inside the dome, he eventually greeted the Palmer and DiNozzo families before kissing his own babies, wife and mother hello. The two older girls had been swimming and were taking a rest and the little ones were playing around the steps in the shallow end, so after hugging and kissing everyone, Tim had his swim. Dee joined him, secure in her floaty and using her arms to move her around.

When someone's phone alarm sounded, everyone got out, the visiting children assured they could swim again the next day. Wrapping up, Tim led the parade back into the house, finding Ducky in the lower level, looking at everything. "My heavens, I can't believe how much space there is down here and how nicely you've done it up. I'm assuming that's your doing?"

Tim nodded, "It wasn't too bad down here but yes, we did it up. Took out all the carpet, put new windows in, painted everything, brought in the appliances and the furniture. I had help making the first few platform bed frames and then I did them by myself. Whenever Charlie was here, he'd help too, so eventually we had enough of the right sizes. If Sarah and her boyfriend ever visit at the same time as our Baltimore brothers, then we'll have to make another one but for now we're good."

"And the windows open and shut by remote, that's quite astonishing."

Tim smiled, "Yes and they also darken automatically when the sun hits them, like glasses do. Did you see the solar batteries?"

"No, I'm afraid I fell asleep almost as soon as we finished our lunch! Solar power, that certainly makes sense out here. Did you install it?"

Tim shook his head, "It was here. After we had the house and property inspected, I began to understand why the previous owners had to give it up. They spent a lot of money on maintenance, the place was in great shape for having been empty for as long as it had. However, they also did some major renovations without permits and in the end it was the cost of the maintenance and the unpermitted renovations that brought them down." He told Ducky the rest of the story, of the couple taking in homeless folks and housing them down here. And of a new neighbor who complained and brought the whole setup crashing down.

He smiled, "I love the irony of the homeless being taken in and the property being purchased by a formerly homeless guy!"

"Yes, I appreciate that too. Tell me, is Rob's room down here or have we bumped him out?"

"When he first got here, he stayed upstairs in Jethro's room. He started back to work December 1st and quickly decided he didn't want to deal with the traffic driving into San Diego. So yes, he has a bed down here in the same room as Bill's, since those two are the tallest. He uses it when he stays overnight. He also has an apartment close to the hospital and a decent car."

"Wonderful! And is that," Ducky pointed to the sofa bed, "the one Delilah's friend gave her?"

"The one that sat in the garage for two years? Yes, it is. We thought of giving it away but decided we'd keep it for extra. Malu is making new cushion covers for it so it won't be so orange or so sad looking."

They ate early by McGee standards but the visitors were tired and had a bit of jet lag. By 6 PM, Davey and Victoria were sound asleep in their shared rooms while the three adults made it another hour before turning in.

They'd arrived on Friday and had a great time over the weekend exploring the town. Saturday, they went into San Diego to do some sight-seeing, their last stop was Balboa Park so the kids could run around. Sunday, they drove to the beach to play at the water's edge, although everyone but Dee put their feet in, and walk in the sand. Tony said later he could almost see the stress floating away from both Jimmy and Breena.

Their trip to Disneyland was a huge success. Tim said it was lucky that Victoria's school's winter break came a week ahead of the California system's winter break. There were plenty of people but not the crowds there would be the following week. They stayed three nights, enjoying Disneyland the first day and evening, then went to Disney California Adventure the next day and Legoland the third day, driving home that evening. It was an expensive trip but NCIS offered park discounts and the rest, well, everyone agreed it was worth it.

The Palmers had been saving for a larger home but when Ned Dorneget finally moved into his own place in October, they'd moved into Gibbs' house, paying only the utilities and property taxes. So they'd been able to splurge on this trip and while they were in California, Ducky had asked them to move into the Georgetown townhouse with him, planning to change the deed of ownership to include them. As he said, he'd planned to leave it to them anyway but he'd rather see them enjoy themselves while he was still there. It was certainly large enough, with 6 bedrooms, 4 baths, a large library and a room that Ducky proposed to re-purpose into a playroom for the children, for those days when it was too cold to play outside. The property included a generous, fenced yard with lovely trees and a garden and he thought room for a seasonal pool, that is an inflatable one that they could all swim in. He'd read somewhere that one could rent fences to surround the pool, thus making it safer for his grand-ducklings.

The Mallard-Palmers were flying home on a redeye flight Saturday night. The temperature that day was in the upper 70s, quite a bit warmer than the average for February and the entire household spent the day at the beach, playing in the water and sand. Breena was heard to wonder whether her family would consider opening one of their mortuaries out here while Jimmy wondered if he could transfer to the Southwest Field Office Autopsy Department. And, of course, Ducky would have to retire and come with them. Or maybe Ducky and Jimmy would transfer with Ducky remaining as the Chief Medical Examiner for a few months before retiring and handing the scalpel over to Jimmy.

Overall, the trip west to visit the McGees and DiNozzos had been an unqualified success and planted the seeds of dreams in Jimmy, Breena and Ducky's hearts.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 10

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.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

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."

"Yes."

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."

"Great!"

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."

"Great, thanks!"

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.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

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.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

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.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

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."

"That's good!"

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."

"Good idea."

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.

NCIS NCIS NCIS NCIS

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!'

"Great!"

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.

The End