Author: CruorLuna (Alison)
Rating: T, for now. May change later!
Category: NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service
Genre: Humour, slight romance
Pairings: Lots of innuendo for Jibbs, McAbby and Tiva, but nothing concrete.
Characters: Gibbs, Jen, Tony, Ziva, Abby, McGee, Ducky, Jimmy
Summary: Abby wants the team to spend some 'quality time' together. Abby being Abby, this results in the investigators and co playing a truth telling game in Gibbs' basement. The past will be revealed, truths told, and surprises are in store for everyone concerned.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, I tells ya, nothing!
A/N: As usual I update later than planned. Shock! But as I've said before, I am working as fast as I can on this and all my fics, and will continue to update as and when I can, I promise! Uni is over until September, and I remain unemployed as yet, so I'll use my time productively and write some ficage … and keep job-hunting. Boo. Thanks to those of you who haven't given up on me yet – I appreciate it!
"Actually, I thought I might go next– if nobody minds," Tim added hurriedly. There were murmurs of consent and a few nods around the room, and Abby sat up straighter, grinning like the cat that had got the cream.
"All right McGee!" she encouraged him. "So what's your question?"
"Uh, well, I thought we could each talk about the last time someone told us that they love us," confessed McGee. "I know it's a little personal, but I figure that we're meant to be getting to know each other better, and the people who love us play a large part in making us who we are, so … I don't know; I'm interested."
"That is very sweet, McGee," Ziva said with a rare, genuine smile, and Tim grinned.
"Thanks, Ziva," he returned with a nod. "So, uh – what do people think …?"
"I think it's your question, Timothy," Ducky offered after a beat of silence. "And if you would like to know, then I agree that it would be rather enlightening."
"Thank you, Ducky – then, uh, maybe you could start?" McGee suggested. Jethro grinned to himself. It never ceased to amaze him how his old friend could always make something out of a situation, even when, like this one, it was met with awkwardness and uncertainty from all other angles.
"I would be quite happy to," Ducky agreed. "All right, let me see … ah yes, of course – I believe it was last week … no, the week before that – excuse me. No, no it was last week, I'm sure of it – well, more like nine days ago, if I'm being exact … yes, anyway: I remember it quite clearly."
"You sure about that?" Tony jibed, followed by a ripple of laughter and the head slap tally being raised to fifteen again, just for fun. Jethro smirked to himself. He would never admit it, and if he did he would blame the alcohol, but he was actually starting to relax and enjoy himself with the team. It was different … but he rather liked it. Of course, that was just another thing he would never admit.
"Yes, Anthony, quite sure," Ducky assured him, chuckling good-naturedly. "Now, one thing you may not know about my mother is that, despite her – how to put it? – variable temperament, she is not as fearless as she would like to appear. A great many things can actually reduce her to a bit of a mess, not least of which being any and all creatures belonging to order Araneae."
"Spiders," Jenny translated with a shudder.
"Yes, indeed," Ducky confirmed. "I'd forgotten that you shared that phobia with Mother, however, Jennifer. It hasn't improved over time?"
"I should say not," Ziva said with a slight smirk, and Jenny rolled her eyes.
"Rub it in, why don't you, Officer David?" she asked dryly. "I admit, I don't do very well when it comes to dealing with my fears …"
"Nope," Jethro agreed with a grin, right at the same time as Ziva said, "That's an understatement." Everyone laughed along and Jen shot mock-glares at both of her ex-partners, but Jethro could see her struggling to contain her own laughter.
"All right, all right – I am absolutely horrifyingly bad at keeping myself in check when I see a spider!" she relented, letting her resigned, breathy laugh escape. "Speaking of which … your basement used to be infested with the damn things," she muttered, glancing uncertainly towards Jethro. "Tell me they're not going to be crawling all over me when I stand up?!" He shrugged nonchalantly.
"Probably not," he said, and she glared at him.
"Not quite the reassurance I was hoping for!"
"You'll be fine," he said more softly; more sincerely; and she relaxed visibly at his assurance, nodding stiffly.
"All right," she agreed, still looking hesitant. "Sorry, Ducky. So: your mother is clearly extremely rational, and doesn't like spiders."
"I love spiders," Abby threw in, shaking her head in dismay. "They're so misunderstood! Most of the garden-variety ones aren't even dangerous – even if they were to bite you, which is highly unlikely with the common species, the chances of infection are – well, okay, maybe you'd get infected, but the chances of dying are –"
"Don't even tell me," Jenny interrupted, looking positively green. "I'll never set foot outside again." Abby half-grinned.
"Sorry, Director," she apologised. "Go ahead, Ducky."
"Yes, well, for your sake, Jennifer, I shall refrain from going into any great detail," the older man promised. "The short version of the story is that my poor, petrified mother came across a spider in the kitchen last week when I was at work. It was on the kitchen side of the door joining that room with the living room, and so she found herself trapped in the kitchen for five hours, too terrified to leave the room for fear that it would jump onto her as she passed it."
"Poor Mrs Mallard," Jimmy said sympathetically. Ducky nodded his agreement.
"Yes, she was quite distraught by the time I arrived home," he said with a small sigh. "Of course, I removed the spider immediately – I don't believe I had even removed my hat yet, now that I think about it … anyway, I caught the little fellow in a glass and released him at the foot of the garden. Mother was quite overcome with relief – as well you might expect, having been – well, held hostage, I believe was how she put it – for the entire afternoon! I had to put her straight to bed with a glass of brandy, and she thanked me for saving her and reminded me that she loved me really – despite the lack of grandchildren."
"Aw!" Abby exclaimed. "Ducky, that's adorable!"
"Yeah, that's sweet, Ducky," agreed DiNozzo with a genuine smile. Ducky returned it.
"She's not such a bad old duck after all," he said with a small chuckle, then paused as silence descended over the basement. "No pun intended, of course," he added, and Jethro snorted appreciatively. This was followed by groans from Tony and Tim, and an eye-roll from Ziva. Ducky shook his head, chuckling.
"That was awful, Duck," Jethro said, shaking his head despairingly.
"Purely unintentional, I assure you," Ducky insisted, still smirking. "My apologies, everyone."
"Not a problem, Ducky," McGee said with a grin. "And I agree with the others – that's a really nice story. It's great that you're so close with your mother."
"Yes, well, I'm all she has in this world – and her dogs," Ducky said with a small chuckle, and Tony let out a groan and buried his head in his hands.
"Those dogs …" he muttered, and Jethro, Tim and Ducky all laughed aloud.
"Kate said –" McGee began, grinning, and then faltered. He cleared his throat and continued in a more sombre tone. "Kate said you could have a great side-career as a pet stylist, DiNozzo," he said with a small smile, and Tony grimaced.
"I'm glad someone thought it was funny," he said, shuddering. "No offence, Ducky."
"None taken, my dear boy!" Ducky assured him with a knowing grin. "Contessa did seem rather taken with you, you know. As was mother, even if she doesn't always know how to show it."
"She keeps a knife in her brassiere," Tony informed them all seriously, and Ziva snorted.
"Do not tell me, Tony – you were afraid of Mrs Mallard?" she guessed, and DiNozzo glowered at her.
"She also thought I was a gigolo," he said, and laughter broke out around the circle. He glared at them all. "It's not funny!" he insisted. "Tell me that's not a scary thought! Me, a gigolo … for Ducky's mother." He shuddered again, a look of horror plastered across his features, and McGee beamed.
"DiNozzo, you just made my whole year," he told the other man happily. "But we'll leave you to ponder on that and move on, if it's all the same to you."
"Bite me, Probie."
"Charming," McGee retorted. "Tell you what, Tony – why don't you go next? You know, take your mind off it?" DiNozzo regarded him warily for a moment before shrugging and taking a swig of his beer.
"Works for me," he agreed. "All right, uh, let me see – what was the question again?"
"Last time someone said they loved you," Abby said instantly, watching him with a gleam in her eye. "Come on Tony – dish the dirt!"
"Oh, right," Tony said as the purpose of the conversation seemed to come back to him. "I don't know, hang on … oh, I guess it would be Saturday night. Yeah, Saturday – or, I guess, Sunday morning, technically. About four a.m., to be exact."
"Name?" Ziva prompted, and Tony struggled to conceal his smirk.
"Uh, I'll get back to you?" he offered sheepishly, and everyone groaned aloud. "What?! Oh, excuse me!" he said defensively, half-laughing. "It could be worse, you know. It's not like it was a group or anything."
"DiNozzo …" Jethro said with a sigh, and Tony blanched.
"Right. Sorry, boss," he said quickly. "Anyway, I can tell you exactly what she looked like. Five-eight; blonde hair; brown eyes … well-proportioned. And she had the cutest little button nose, too. I've got her number at home with her name written on it, if it helps."
"It doesn't," Jenny assured him, and he shrugged.
"I tried," he said, seemingly unruffled. "Well, we went for dinner to this great little seafood place I know in Georgetown. We shared a bottle of wine – Italian, of course. I think it was Chianti … anyway; the oysters there are the best I've found anywhere. We had a plate each, and a third to share. Then we went dancing in a small place I found downtown last year. They play good music, not just for kids, and they've got really good security. So at least I know I'll never run into you there, Probie."
"You assume I'd be caught dead somewhere you go, Tony," McGee said boredly.
"Can it, McGoogle," DiNozzo responded, but there were small smiles on both of their faces, and Jethro rolled his eyes. "Anyway, after dancing we went back to her place for drinks and, uh …"
"I think we all know what you went back for, Tony," Ziva interrupted, and he smirked.
"Yeah," he agreed with a laugh. "Well, it was about four o'clock when I eventually left. She told me to call her any time, and finished her goodbye with 'love you, Tony.'" He sat back looking far too pleased with himself, and Abby snickered.
"Wow, Tony, that was … profound," she said dryly, wearing her trademark grin.
"Yeah, DiNozzo, really nice," McGee said, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. Tony merely grinned around at them and winked at Ziva a little too suggestively for Jethro's liking.
"What can I say?" he said, straightening his collar. "It's part of the charm."
"Only you, Anthony," Ducky said with a chortle, shaking his head but smiling all the same. "However, each to his own, as they say. It is certainly love, after a fashion, and as Timothy said, it is a personal concept."
"Yes, but it offered very little insight that we did not already have," Ziva said pointedly, and Tony wiggled his eyebrows in response.
"That's because I don't hide who I am," he retorted.
"It is true – you are certainly easy to read," Ziva agreed, and Jenny laughed aloud, toasting Ziva silently with her glass. DiNozzo sputtered indignantly, and McGee shot him a smirk before speaking over him.
"You know what, Tony?" he said, still smiling. "Ducky's right. It's personal, and we shouldn't judge. Whatever the rest of us think of love … might not be the same, but you're entitled to your own experiences, and I won't take that away from you. So thanks for sharing."
"I feel like I'm being insulted," DiNozzo said suspiciously, but McGee shrugged.
"I was serious, actually," he replied. "But you're welcome to think what you want, and I have no doubt that you will."
"Gee, thanks," Tony said sarcastically. "Come on then, Probilicious. If your experiences of love are so much more 'profound' than mine, then please, share them with me – let me see what exactly I'm missing out on."
"Uh, all right – I guess I could go next," Tim agreed.
"Do you have a girlfriend, McGee?" Palmer asked curiously, and all eyes turned onto him. His cheeks reddened and his eyes widened slightly. "Uh, sorry – I didn't mean for that to sound so, uh … rude. It was honestly just an innocent question – I mean, I don't know if you do or not, so …"
"So you asked," Abby finished, taking pity on him. "Fair enough, Jimmy."
"Yeah, thanks," he said, relieved. "So, uh, do you have a girlfriend? Or – or a boyfriend; I mean, that's cool too, if you … I should stop now, shouldn't I?"
"Now, Palmer?" Jethro asked, rolling his eyes, and McGee glowered at the young ME's assistant.
"I don't have a girlfriend," he said, his eyes narrowed, "and I most certainly do not have a boyfriend. If I were to be seeing anyone, it would be a woman – just for the record, Palmer."
"Sorry," Jimmy said, looking embarrassed.
"Don't apologise," Jethro said immediately, turning his head in surprise when he realised Jen had uttered the words along with him. She half-laughed, tucking a loose tendril of hair behind her ear and taking a quick sip of her drink.
"So you still believed that when you worked with the Director, Gibbs?" Abby asked, looking at him sideways. He had barely even opened his mouth to respond when Jenny snorted.
"Oh yeah," she answered for him, eyes rolling towards the ceiling. "Jethro's been a fan of the Duke for far longer than I've known him."
"The Duke?" Ziva repeated, looking bemused.
"John Wayne," Tony explained, and she merely stared at him blankly. "Come on! 'That'll be the day'? One of the most famous lines ever!" Jethro caught Jenny's eye and winced slightly at the momentary flash of pain that crossed her face, before she concealed it as quickly as she could. He cursed himself once more. That was something he would never forgive himself for. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ziva shrug.
"You forget, Tony, that while we have movies in my country, the sayings lose something in translation."
"Yeah, but … never mind," DiNozzo said, shaking his head with a comic 'startled deer' expression on his face. Apparently the concept of someone who didn't know who John Wayne was was enough to stun him into silence.
"So, you were saying, Timothy?" Ducky intervened, steering them swiftly back on topic.
"Oh, right – thanks Ducky," Tim said with a nod. "I think the last time someone told me they loved me, was probably … last month, on the sixteenth."
"What was the sixteenth?" asked Jenny curiously, and McGee smiled softly.
"My sister's birthday," he elaborated, and Jethro saw Tony perk up. As far as he knew, none of them – with the possible exception of Abby – had ever met McGee's sister, and Tony hadn't even known she existed.
"You have a sister, Probie?" he asked now, grinning.
"Yes, and she's too young for you, DiNozzo," McGee responded instantly, shooting a warning look at his colleague. He was so uncharacteristically stern that DiNozzo's grin actually faltered, and he leaned back slightly, surveying the younger man thoughtfully.
"Just taking an interest, McGeek," he said somewhat defensively. "Jeez!"
"Yeah, right," Tim muttered disbelievingly. "Anyway, she's a sophomore at Georgetown, so she doesn't live at home any more, which means that I don't get to see her when I visit my parents. I mean, obviously I'd like to see more of her, but it's pretty difficult, between work, her classes and her part-time job. But with it being her birthday, I thought I should make an extra-special effort and see her the day of, to give her present to her and spend some time with her. She's the only sister I've got, after all."
"Aw, you're so cute, Timmy!" Abby exclaimed, reaching over and tweaking his cheek with a grin. He fended her off, reddening. "Your sister is so lucky," she added. "My brother sends me a birthday card roughly once a year, on no specific date, and I'm pretty sure he gets his girlfriend to buy and write it for him."
"That doesn't sound very nice," Jen said with a small frown, but Abby shrugged, still grinning broadly.
"Oh, it's okay," she assured quickly. "I mean, at least he tries to acknowledge that I even have a birthday, even if he has no idea when it is. Besides, on his birthday, I usually send him joke mail. Or an e-card. He loves e-cards."
"Well those are cute," McGee said with a small smile in her direction. "Anyway, Sarah – her name is Sarah, if I didn't mention that already – and I were pretty close growing up. We lived pretty far out of town, in a nice neighbourhood – nice, but small. There weren't many kids around, so we had to spend a lot of time together. And I was already eight when she was born, so I was old enough to enjoy looking after her a bit. But, uh, I guess that's not really the point, is it? … Well, like I said, it was her birthday, and I wanted to see her; hand over her present, and catch up a bit. So I made reservations at her favourite restaurant and surprised her on campus and we went to lunch."
"You did not tell her in advance?" Ziva asked, eyebrows raised. "What if she had had plans?"
"I didn't tell her about lunch until I'd asked her what she was doing for the rest of the day," McGee explained. "I didn't want to interfere with her plans – and I thought that if I called and told her, she might not make other plans because of it. I only wanted her to come if she really wasn't doing anything, not because she felt she had to."
"Quite gentlemanly of you," noted Ziva, and Tim flushed.
"Thanks … But yeah, it was really nice, actually," he said, smiling reminiscently. "The restaurant was nice, the food was great, and we got to catch up. We ended up sitting there for over two hours just – just talking, about absolutely everything and nothing at all. And I gave her her present, and –"
"What did you get her?" queried Palmer.
"Oh, I got her a first edition of her favourite book, The Sun Also Rises."
"Hemingway," Jenny said, looking impressed. "Your sister must be quite the reader if her favourite book is by Hemingway. It's not exactly light reading."
"She's an English major," Tim admitted. "And she really, really loved it, which was such a relief – it took me forever to track down."
"I can imagine," murmured Jen, and Jethro smiled to himself. She had always been a great reader. He found himself wondering if she had any time now to curl up in front of her fireplace with a book and lose herself in it, or if her bedtime reading now consisted of arrest reports. He had a sneaking suspicion that the latter might be the case, and the thought saddened him.
"Yeah," agreed Tim with a wide smile, clearly pleasantly surprised to have found someone else in the team who shared his passion for literature. "Uh, anyway, she had to get back to class eventually, and I dropped her off. She gave me a hug, thanked me for the present, and reminded me that she loved me, even if we don't get to hang out that often any more. It was really nice to hear it, and it made me glad I'd decided to surprise her."
"That's very touching, Tim," Ducky said sincerely.
"I meant what I said before: Sarah is very lucky," Abby repeated with a smile.
"Thank you … uh, shall we move on?" McGee suggested, his ears red. "How about, uh … Boss, how about you?" Jethro frowned slightly, taking a drink as he contemplated his options. He could use his free pass: this was definitely the closest he had come to it so far. Then again, neither Jenny nor Ziva had asked anything yet, and they were the two he was most wary of. And as much as the story was personal, it wasn't so private that it couldn't be shared. And, he reasoned, it wasn't like it would come as any great surprise to anyone in the room. They all knew his track record with women, after all.
"All right," he said slowly, and McGee seemed to let out a breath. "I could be wrong, but the last time I can remember someone saying it to me would be … Stephanie." Three things happened then: one unsurprising, one regrettable, and one utterly bewildering. DiNozzo's head shot up, his eyes gleaming with anticipation. Ducky sighed quietly and took a drink of his Scotch, and Jethro felt a pang of guilt. He had always felt bad about costing his friend his relationship with Stephanie, even though Ducky had assured him on countless occasions that he held him entirely blameless in the matter. And, most surprisingly, Jenny tensed beside Jethro, and a quick glance at her told him that she had set her jaw and her face had closed down, betraying no hint of emotion. Interesting.
"Who's Stephanie, boss?" DiNozzo asked, looking like he had just received the best news he had heard all year, and Jethro glowered at him. He would tell the story, but in his own time.
"Ex-wife," he grunted eventually, and DiNozzo's smirk widened.
"Last one?" he guessed, and Jethro rolled his eyes.
"Yeah," he conceded. "Yeah, she was the last, DiNozzo. She's a good woman, and our marriage ended … not well, but better than the previous two." One marriage didn't count among the failed, and Jethro hoped that Ducky understood that. "We weren't married for very long – only a year."
"You lived in Europe together, didn't you?" Abby asked, scrunching up her forehead in an effort to remember. Jethro nodded tightly.
"Moscow," he confirmed.
"So that's where you learned to speak Russian!" Tony exclaimed, and Jethro quirked a brow at him.
"Nope," he said shortly. "Learned it years before then, DiNozzo. I was sent to Moscow because I knew the language, and Steph wasn't sure about upping and leaving everything behind to come with me. So, I proposed, and we got married two weeks later."
"Three," Ducky corrected with a small smile, and Jethro rolled his eyes. That was Ducky's way of reminding him that he was okay with the situation, and although he would never say so aloud, it was important to him to be assured of the fact.
"Three," he corrected himself. "We got married three weeks later. The year in Russia was good, but the work was tough, and Steph … she hadn't signed on for a part-time husband. I think she would have been more okay with it if we had stayed in the States. She knew before we moved that the job was the way it was, but she seemed to think that because we had changed countries, that the job would change too. When it didn't, she started to resent it."
"Which is completely ridiculous, of course," Jen said dryly, and he turned to look curiously at her. "I mean, she should have figured out that your plan all along was to take her to a country where she didn't know anyone or speak the language and then leave her alone to fend for herself for the vast majority of the time." There were a few stifled chuckles around the circle, and Jethro raised his eyebrows at her.
"How would you know she didn't speak the language?" he asked in a low voice, knowing by the way her cheeks darkened that he had hit the nail on the head. "I didn't tell you that."
"Lucky guess," she countered, but he scoffed.
"You're lying," he said automatically.
"Oh, am I?!" she shot back, and he nodded confidently.
"Yeah, you are," he retorted, nodding meaningfully towards her twitchy right eye. He wouldn't make the mistake of letting the rest of the group in on her tell, but her cheeks turned an even deeper shade of red as she absorbed his meaning. "You going to tell me how you know, or do I have to drag it out of you?"
"We can do this later, Jethro," muttered Jen, ducking her head, but he wasn't interested in later. She was hiding something, and if it was as private as she was making it out to be then she wouldn't have made the mistake of bringing it up to begin with.
"No, I think we'll do this right now," he returned evenly. "What are you hiding, Jen?"
"Do you really want to know?" she asked, looking up into his eyes, conflict raging in her own. He nodded slowly, not at all sure that he did. She sighed. "I met her there," she confessed, a barely discernable trace of bitterness in her tone. He sat back, stunned, and gaped at her, vaguely registering the looks of shock and uncertainty on the faces of his team. She bit her lip.
"You what?" he said finally, and she ran a nervous hand through her hair.
"I met Stephanie in Moscow," she repeated more quietly; more … guiltily? "Only for ten minutes, and by sheer accident. It was June of '01. They sent me over to liaise with Russian Intelligence on behalf of the CIA – I was on attachment for nine months after an undercover op in Tivoli went south."
"And you knew it was her – how?" Jethro demanded, now slightly regretting having pushed her in front of everyone. But what was done was done, and he definitely wanted answers.
"I didn't – not at first. I was browsing a store when she came in looking for boots. She tried to explain what she wanted to the salesperson, but the girl didn't speak any English, and she clearly wasn't getting anywhere fast. I took pity on her and played translator for five minutes so she could get what she wanted. She introduced herself as Stephanie Gibbs, which surprised me. But I didn't put two and two together until you called her on her cell and she answered it 'hey Jethro.' That sort of gave the game away."
"She never mentioned it," he muttered, still completely thrown for a loop. Jenny smiled wryly.
"Probably because I didn't tell her I knew you," she said with a sigh. "I considered it, but I didn't think it would exactly go over well, given the nature of –" She stopped herself mid-sentence, and Jethro cursed internally as DiNozzo and Abby exchanged meaningful looks. Jenny took a deep breath before finishing her sentence. "Given the sensitive nature of the ops we worked on," she corrected, covering her tracks almost flawlessly. He had to give her credit for that much. He nodded slowly.
"Makes sense," he agreed. "Decker would have slayed us both if any of the work we did was compromised." She shot him a grateful look and cleared her throat.
"Anyway," she said meaningfully, "enough strolling down memory lane. Like I said, we can discuss it later if we have to. You were explaining that your relationship was a little … rocky."
"Understatement of the year, but yeah," conceded Jethro, effectively shutting DiNozzo up before he could even open his mouth. "Long story short, we got back to the States and filed for divorce a month later. Turns out the damage was already done. It was at the very end that she said it for the last time. We met up to sign the papers once they came through – went for coffee to say goodbye, or whatever you want to call it. She got a bit emotional. It was nothing new for me, but it affected her. Right before she left, she told me she still loved me, but she just couldn't live with me." There was silence for a moment, and he finished off with a more light-hearted comment. "Not that I blame her," he added. "I wouldn't want to live with me."
"Well, since you admitted it …" Abby said slyly, and he shot her a look, at which she giggled. "Well, sorry, Gibbs, but I can see her point. You must be impossible to live with."
"Oh, he is," Jenny assured them all casually, snorting at the glare he shot her. "Don't look at me like that! I have one word for you, Jethro."
"Hey!" he defended himself, and she giggled at his expression. "Excuse me for being a little difficult with a bullet lodged in my ass!"
"You had to live with him when he was like that?" Tony asked Jenny, eyes wide. "How long before you wanted to kill him yourself?"
"Oh, I already did," Jen promised. "That was the longest two weeks of my life."
"You walked around with a bullet in your – uh, there – for two whole weeks?" Palmer asked, horrified, and Jethro grimaced.
"We couldn't risk leaving the apartment," he said resignedly. "We weren't in the clear yet, and I could barely walk, let alone run for cover. And we couldn't afford a doctor anyway – we were out of touch with NCIS, in deep cover, and had no access to extra funds until the end of the fortnight."
"Is that why you never let us get out of contact, boss?" McGee asked curiously.
"Well yeah, McGee – that and it's just common sense," Jethro replied with a hint of sarcasm. Tim half-chuckled and nodded to concede Gibbs' point.
"True," he admitted. "Well, thanks for sharing, boss."
"Yes, that was most interesting, Jethro," Ducky concurred, a gleam in his eye. "It certainly does sound like Stephanie."
"You know her, Ducky?" Tony asked, staring agape at the Medical Examiner.
"Oh, I should say so – I introduced the pair of them," Ducky revealed with a small laugh. DiNozzo raised his eyebrows, looking stunned by the admission, and Jethro upped the tally to sixteen. McGee cleared his throat.
"Uh, shall we go on?" he suggested. "How about you, Palmer?"
"Oh!" Jimmy looked surprised, but sat up a little straighter, looking thoughtful. "Uh, sure, I'll go next – let me think … I guess it was probably … I think it was my grandfather, actually."
"Your grandparents are still alive?" Ziva asked, looking more than a little surprised. Jimmy looked taken aback and glanced around him nervously.
"Uh, three of them," he said with a nod. "Why?"
"Sorry, it is just – it is unusual in Israel to still have your parents by the time you are twenty-one, never mind grandparents," she said, shaking her head slightly. "At least, it is unusual if your family is Mossad, as mine is, and as are most of the families I was raised with. Our family is something of an exception to still have one parent living, although it is somewhat excused by the fact that I am the only surviving child."
"I didn't know that, Ziva," Abby said softly, looking horrified. Ziva smiled sadly.
"Yes," she confirmed. "I had a sister and a brother, both of whom are dead, and my mother is also dead. I have wondered if part of the reason my father allowed me to come here was so that he might not lose all of his children – his slaves in Mossad."
"Slaves?" Tim repeated, looking aghast.
"Any Mossad operative is a servant of my father's," Ziva said shortly. "He can order them to do what he will, and they will do so. They can, however, refuse. Their lives will most likely be forfeit, but they have the option to run. His children have never had that choice – we are bound by honour to follow his instructions, no matter what. Running is not an option for us – for me."
"Wow," Jimmy murmured, staring awestruck at her. "I had no idea it was so tough for you, Ziva. I can't imagine losing my brother." Jethro saw a muscle tighten in Ziva's jaw before she answered.
"He had to die," she said coldly. "He was my brother, and I would not have wished it for him, but his work prevented it from ending any other way. It is not something we speak of in my family."
"Sorry," Palmer said, blushing profusely. "Uh, yeah, I'll just … well; anyway, I'm pretty sure the last person to tell me they love me was my granddad. He just got a computer about two months ago, and he's been taking a class at the local Senior Centre. He finally learned how to email last week, and he sent me an email telling me he misses me and that he's proud of me. He finished it with 'I love you, Jimbo.' He always called me Jimbo when I was a kid – I don't really know why …"
"How adorable is your granddad?!" Abby exclaimed. "'Jimbo.' That's so cute."
"You think everything's cute, Abs," Tony said with a laugh, and she mock-glared in his direction.
"Hey, this is a cute question!" she defended herself. "Well, unless you're Gibbs, in which case it's kind of sad, I guess. And if you're you, Tony, it's just … a normal amount of cuteness."
"Which is a lot, because I'm extremely cute, right?" DiNozzo joked with a grin, and everyone rolled their eyes.
"Right," Abby agreed with a sly smile. "Whatever you say, Tony …"
"Well, I think it's sweet," McGee said, nodding towards Jimmy. "You're lucky you've still got your granddad and that he makes such an effort to stay in touch."
"Yeah, I am," Palmer agreed, smiling. "And that Grandma let him have the computer. He loves modern electrics – and he really likes to play around with them in the garage. It drives Grandma absolutely crazy. She says if he ever brings home a PlayStation she's going to lock him in the garage with it until it explodes."
"Your grandma sounds awesome," Abby said with a grin.
"She's – she's a little old-fashioned, but she makes the best chocolate-chip cookies in the world," said Jimmy, smiling. "And the best meat loaf."
"Was that an invitation to dinner at Grandma's, Palmer?" DiNozzo teased, and Jimmy paled.
"Uh, I guess …"
"He's kidding, Mr Palmer," Ducky said reassuringly, chortling. Palmer laughed nervously.
"Right. I knew that," he promised.
"Uh-huh," McGee laughed. "Thanks for the insight, Palmer … How about you, Director Shepard?" he suggested, and Jen cleared her throat softly, glancing sideways at Jethro before replying.
"Pass," she said, softly but clearly. Abby's face fell noticeably, but even DiNozzo refrained from pressing the issue.
"Are you okay, Director?" Abby asked quietly, and Jenny forced a smile and nodded.
"Of course," she lied, seemingly unaware of her madly twitching right eye. "It's just not something I feel comfortable discussing right now." Her gaze shifted seemingly unconsciously onto Jethro again, and he felt his gut squirm as he flashed back mentally to the last time he had told her he loved her.
He was shuddering above her, his arms quaking on either side of her squirming body … she was screaming his name as he drove her over the edge … he was groaning as he fell over with her, collapsing onto the bed and rolling off of her … she was curling into his side, kissing every inch of him she could reach … you're amazing, she was gasping against his skin … he was tilting her face upwards, capturing her lips in a smouldering kiss … only because of you, he was replying … she was smirking at him as she rolled over and straddled him … not tired yet, are you? she was asking teasingly … he was kissing her tenderly, fisting his fingers in her hair … I love you, Jenny, he was murmuring against her lips as her hands splayed over his chest … she was looking down at him, a strange look in her eyes … I love you too, she was whispering, closing her eyes and breathing deeply for a moment … he was reaching for her; wanting to reassure her … she was grabbing his wrists and stopping him from touching her, the sadness gone and replaced with a mischievous gleam in her eye …
They had made love once more before falling asleep, and when he had woken up, she had been gone. His heart clenched as he remembered the feeling of waking up to realise she wasn't there; wasn't coming back. Jenny's gaze dropped swiftly from his, as though she had read his thoughts, and her cheeks coloured ever so slightly. He sighed internally and pushed memories of their last night together from his mind. There were some things he definitely didn't want to be thinking about in a room full of his colleagues. A quick glance around assured him that nobody seemed to have noticed his and Jenny's shared pain, and he hoped to keep it that way. McGee spoke up again.
"All right, then let's move on," he suggested with a genuine smile in Jen's direction. Jethro silently thanked the younger man – his sensitivity was probably what she needed right now. He couldn't help but wonder if the moments he had just been reliving were the ones she hadn't wanted to discuss – if the last six years had been so different for her than he had imagined … if she hadn't moved on after all. "Ziva?" McGee said, drawing Jethro's attention back to the circle. "Why don't you go?"
"Certainly," Ziva said with a nod and a small smile. "I am sorry to say this story is not nearly as … cute, or as happy, as most of the others'. I think it is safe to say that it is also sadder than Gibbs', and I apologise in advance. The last person that I think – no: that I know – to have told me that they loved me, was my little sister, Tali."
"You said … she died?" Tim asked gently, and Ziva nodded hurriedly, blinking a little more often than was quite natural.
"Yes," she said, sounding only a little choked. "Yes, Tali was killed several years ago now. She was only sixteen years old, and a far better person and child than either my brother or me. My father likes to remind me of her when I disappoint him. She was seven years younger than me, but she became my closest friend as we grew up together. We spent most of our time together, when I was not working and she was not at school. She said that she wanted to join Mossad and be like me, but she never had the chance."
"That's so awful," Abby breathed.
"How did she die, my dear?" Ducky asked her softly. Ziva looked up, her face set and any trace of the phantom tears gone.
"She was killed in a Hamas suicide bombing, in my mother's village some thirty miles outside of Tel Aviv," she said levelly; her tone almost detached. Then again, Jethro thought, that was probably the only way she could get through it. "We were not sure if she had arrived yet when it happened, but three days after the event we received confirmation that she had been there. The same village had been bombed some years previously – my mother was killed in almost the exact same spot as Tali. My father uses Tali as an example of why we must continue our work in Mossad; why we must recruit, but I … I do not think that Tali would like that. She wanted to be a strong woman when she grew up, but she would have worked in politics. She would not have become an assassin. Tali did not want lives to be taken – she wanted to prevent more massacres. She was a believer in the power of speech. Words not deeds."
"She sounds like a hell of a girl, for a sixteen-year-old especially," Tony said, reaching over and squeezing Ziva's shoulder somewhat hesitantly. Ziva nodded slowly.
"She was," she agreed quietly. "She was going to visit our mother's cousin in the village for three weeks. I helped her pack her bags before she left. The last time I saw her, we said goodbye. We did not think that it would be for the last time. She was planning her birthday party … She asked me to ask my father if he would actually attend for the first time since our mother died, and I said I would. She hugged me and said 'Ani ohevet otakh, Ziva'. 'I love you, Ziva,' in Hebrew. Since she died, nobody else has said that to me. My brother and I were friends and colleagues more than family, and I do not believe that my father has any love for anyone or anything other than his job."
"Oh, Ziva …" Ducky sighed, shaking his head. "I am truly sorry for your loss."
"Thank you, Ducky," she acknowledged with an inclining of her head. Abby bit her lip, seeming hesitant, before surprising everyone by leaning across and hugging the Israeli. Ziva looked more stunned than anybody else as Abby gave her a short, hard squeeze and then pulled away, settling herself back into her position.
"Sorry, Ziva," she said simply, and Ziva nodded, looking a little dazed.
"Thank you, Abby …" she said, regarding the Goth with confusion, with just a hint of a smile playing on the corners of her lips. Jethro winked at Abby and gave her a small smile, which she returned faintly. No matter what her feelings on Ziva might still be, she had at least meant it when she had said she would try, and that meant a lot to Gibbs. Ziva would never replace Kate, but that didn't mean she couldn't find her own niche in the team.
"Thanks for telling us, Ziva," Jenny offered quietly. "I know how much she meant to you."
"She would have liked all of you very much," Ziva said with a slightly wider smile than before. "You especially, Jenny. I often wished she could have met you in Egypt."
"If she was anything like you, I'm sure I would have liked her too," agreed Jen, and Ziva's eyes lit up almost imperceptibly.
"Toda," she murmured. "And I am sorry for bumping everyone down."
"I think you mean 'bumming us out,'" put in Jimmy with a smile, and Ziva sighed dramatically.
"That too," she agreed, and Tony and Jethro both smiled.
"Well, thank you for that, Ziva," Tim said with a grateful nod. "It can't have been easy, but it was really interesting, and really touching."
"You are welcome, McGee."
"So that just leaves you, Abby," said Tim, turning to Abby, whose grin broadened.
"Mine's kind of ridiculous," she warned them.
"Nothing new there then," Jethro muttered, and her mouth dropped open in fake shock.
"Gibbs!" she exclaimed. "I am hurt!" He just looked at her, and she cleared her throat hurriedly. "All right, moving swiftly on," she continued, smirking. "The last time someone told me they loved me was three weeks and two days ago. And four hours. And seventeen minutes … ish. Maybe eighteen …"
"So about three weeks ago," Tony prompted, and she grinned.
"Right," she agreed. "And it was Sister Bernadette."
"I did not know you had a sister, Abby," Ziva said, looking surprised. Abby laughed, then sobered quickly at the hurt look on the other woman's face.
"No, I don't," she explained. "Sister Bernadette is a nun."
"Oh," Ziva said, nodding as though she understood. She then stopped mid-nod, scrunched up her face in confusion, and shook her head instead. "Wait a minute – a nun was the last person to tell you she loved you?"
"Yeah! She's on my bowling team."
"You bowl … with nuns?" Jen asked, quirking an eyebrow, and Abby nodded proudly.
"Uh-huh. And three weeks, two days, four hours and seventeen or eighteen minutes ago, I bowled the final frame in the championship final," she said with a huge smile gracing her features. "I bowled a two-ninety, and it won us the game. We won the trophy, which is so cool, because nobody expects to go into a convent and see this massive gold gleaming statue on the mantel, but that's where they're keeping it, and they're going to get a group photo blown up and framed and put it on the wall above the fireplace." She finished with a short nod, as though that explained everything. Everyone gaped at her for a moment, before DiNozzo spoke up.
"And this is why Sister Bernadette loves you?" he attempted to clarify.
"Well yeah," Abby said, looking at him as though it were obvious. "Because I won us the championship for the first time. We were all jumping around and screaming and cheering and hugging and she just shouted it at me. 'Way to go, Abigail – we love you!' They offered me the trophy for my apartment, but I said they should have it. I can see it whenever I go over there, and I could never have won it without them. So I said they should put it on the mantelpiece."
"I see …" Tony said, raising his eyebrows in Ducky's direction and widening his eyes as though to say 'she's crazy.' Which Jethro decided to let slide, because it was Abby.
"Wow," Tim said, staring at her as if he wasn't sure whether to be impressed or worried about her. "Uh – thanks, Abby – thank you, everyone. I know it was a bit of a strange question, but I really enjoyed getting to hear all of your answers, so … thanks."
"All right, Probie. So who's next?" Tony asked, looking around, but Abby stuck her hand in the air quickly. "Abs, you've already asked."
"No, not that," she said, sticking out her tongue. "I wanted to say something before we change the topic. I know it's not the same, and I know it might not make a huge difference, but … I love all of you." Everyone smiled; truly smiled, at that, and Jethro raised his glass to Abby in a toast.
A/N: Sorry once again for the lack of updates of late – a large problem is the time thing, but it's also getting my head around this fic. I really need to be in the mood to write it, because a lot of the stories – like Ziva's – are pretty emotional, and I feel like I have to at least try to do them justice. So I'm sorry it takes me a while, but I hope you'll bear with me. Thanks to those of you who have stuck around, and I hope you enjoyed the chapter – I'd love to hear, as always!