Madeleine Jane Gibbs slammed her locker shut. She tilted her head and twisted the combination lock delicately, intent on setting it so that between her next two classes, all she had to do was spin it to the last number. She was just turning to the second numeral when there was a sharp tug on the ends of her long hair. Her arm jerked, and she spun the lock too far.
Frowning, the sixteen-year-old turned around and arched an eyebrow at one of her best friends.
Lauren Murray grinned at her smugly. She wasted no time in jumping straight to the point.
"Come to Bonfire," she coaxed.
It had been Lauren's mantra for the past two months, and it seemed no matter how many times Madeleine stalwartly refused her, she kept pushing.
Madeleine rolled her eyes.
"No," she said firmly, starting past Lauren.
Lauren intercepted her and pushed her back against her locker, shoving her arm into Madeleine's chest. Madeleine giggled and raised her eyebrows, but Lauren just glared at her sternly.
"You have to come," Laruen insisted. "MJ," she whined pitifully, widening her brown eyes.
Madeleine turned up her nose.
"For the last time, Lauren, I cannot go," she retorted seriously.
"But I'm a senior," Lauren protested, "and I'm graduating, and I want to have my little MJ at Bonfire with me!" she puckered her lips and glared at her friend. "Michael Winston asked you to go with him, anyway, how do you turn that down?"
Madeleine cocked her brow.
"My dad turned that one down for me," she laughed. She shoved Lauren away playfully and put a hand on her hip, taking the other girl's shoulder firmly and gripping it. She glared at her pointedly. "Lauren Murray, this is the last time I will tell you, I am not going to Bonfire."
Lauren pouted and stomped her foot. Madeleine forcefully turned her shoulder so they could head towards their next class. Checking the clock on her cell phone, Madeleine noted she had four minutes to get there—plenty of time, but then again, her history teacher didn't care if students were late.
"What is that excuse you keep using, anyway?" Lauren groused, popping a piece of gum in her mouth.
Madeleine shoved her phone back into her pocket and raised her eyebrows, brushing bangs out of her face.
"Oh, that excuse, um, let me remember…it was lame, wasn't it, um," Madeleine pretended to think and rolled her eyes sarcastically. "Oh yeah, my parents are getting married," she pointed out.
Lauren snorted and held up her palms, making a face.
"Well, pardon me," she drawled. "I didn't even realize they weren't married until you came screaming to the tournament shouting that they were getting married." Lauren turned up her head thoughtfully.
"You didn't notice my mom doesn't use Daddy's last name?"
"I thought it was because Jenny's a badass," she said logically, hopping down the stairs to get to the history hallway. She turned around, taking them backwards in a surprisingly graceful manner.
"You're going to fall," Madeleine pointed out skeptically.
"Nuh-uh," retorted Lauren boldly, chewing her gum thoughtfully again. "You know old Gibbs picked Bonfire weekend on purpose," she griped.
Madeleine smirked. Her father was notorious for his completely unnatural ability to roadblock any teenage situation Madeleine might even think of getting herself into, from Homecoming dance to a Summer trip overseas with her softball team.
Bonfire was an event the seniors at Madeleine's school organized every year to kick off the football season. It was generally held the last week of August after the first game, and it was probably a lot of fun. It was also a fairly stereotypical teenage scene as far as drinking and bad decision-making went, and even if she hadn't been prohibited from attending, Madeleine wasn't sure she'd want to.
"Actually, my mom nixed Bonfire," Madeleine said. "She thinks the whole thing sounds like a night in jail waiting to happen, and since I just turned sixteen, I'm too young. She said I could go next year."
"But you won't," Lauren guessed.
"Not even if Henry Cavill asks me," Madeleine swore.
On the ground floor, Lauren righted herself and fell into step beside Madeleine again. Outside of the history hallway, she turned and leaned against a wall, tilting her head with interest.
"If your parents didn't get married when you were born, why all of a sudden?" she asked.
Madeleine grinned wryly.
"Mom lost a bet."
Lauren lifted her eyebrows.
"Seriously?" she asked skeptically, and as Madeleine nodded, she snorted in disbelief. "I guess that sounds like your mom," she said. "That's so un-romantic, though."
"Dad bought her a really big ring."
"Oh. That's romantic," Lauren said seriously. She smiled a little, though, tilting her head. "Jenny is still on the short list to be named Secretary of State if Hillary Clinton gets elected, right?"
Madeleine nodded proudly, checking her phone for the time again. The bell would ring in about two minutes. Lauren snorted in amusement.
"Then is your dad aware that your mom probably only agreed to get married because if she gets the Clinton nomination, it will be a political nightmare if she's living with her lover and bastard daughter?"
Madeleine quickly put a finger to Lauren's lips and glared at her sternly.
"We aren't allowed to tell Daddy that," she said swiftly. "He won the bet, that's the end of it."
"Your mom lets him think he won a bet, but she set it up in the first place?" Lauren asked, outraged. "Your dad thinks he tricked her, and she tricked him into thinking that so—she wants to get married, she just doesn't want to admit it?"
Madeleine winked at Lauren. Madeleine and her mother both knew that a quick, sweet little wedding was the surest way to nip far-right criticisms in the bud when the time for the nomination to be announced came. That, and Madeleine liked to think her mother loved her father.
Madeleine sidestepped Lauren and started to her class. Lauren whipped around and stomped her foot.
"But that's just semantics!" she accused, outraged.
Madeleine spun around, walking backwards towards the History room. She laughed.
"That's how Mom lost the bet!"
Her last block of the day was study hall, and it was presided over by her softball coach, so Madeleine was free to prop her feet on the back of the seat in front of her. Thanks to a grueling lecture in her AP History class that had taken all of her brainpower, she had no intention of starting her homework now. Her parent's wedding was tomorrow, and she reserved Friday nights for relaxing, so it looked like she'd be doing everything Sunday afternoon.
Study hall was lax, and Coach didn't care if students had their cell phones out, so Madeleine's first order of business was scrolling through what she'd missed on her Twitter feed and ignoring Lauren's repeated texts still attempting to convince her to come to Bonfire. She grinned as she ignored every message, biting back a smile.
She wouldn't miss her parent's wedding for the world, no matter how small and untraditional it was going to be. She had spent half of her life waiting for this day, and she could hardly believe it was about to happen—not to mention she was pretty sure she was more excited than her mother was. Madeleine had not cared much about their marital status when she was younger, but when she'd gotten into her teenage years she'd not only wanted a pretty wedding to go to—even tomboyish softball players liked pretty dresses on the side—but she'd become fascinated with the constant battle of wills her mother and father had when it came to the whole issue.
It was no secret that Jenny Shepard and Leroy Jethro Gibbs were not breaking up, ever, and yet time and time again she had refused to marry him and he had stubbornly refused to stop harassing her to do so. Madeleine was sure the first time her mother turned Dad down had been somewhat more of a sobering event, but over the years it had become a matter of pride between the two of them: neither wanted to give up.
Madeleine distinctly remembered the exact morning her mother essentially caved.
It had been at the end of May as Madeleine was eating breakfast before her softball tournament. They had both taken off work to travel to Vermont with her for the game, but as usual, something had gone down between their ever-warring agencies that had ticked off Dad—
Madeleine sat at the kitchen table in her father's house, rolling her eyes good-naturedly as she listened to her parents lightly bicker. She yawned and held her eyes open wide to wake herself up. The coffee wasn't done brewing, so she was stuck with a lone bowl of Applejacks.
Her mother stood by the coffee maker, one hand propped on her hip. She glared at Madeleine's father.
"You can't admit that you screwed up," she railed. "We gave the informant immunity for a reason. We needed him to feel secure and you—"
"He's a bad guy, Jen," Gibbs pointed out simply, holding his hands out as if he didn't care.
"He's a foreign diplomat, they're all bad guys!" snapped Jenny. "He's lower level, yes, but if we don't keep an eye on his superiors—"
"You don't trust men who betray their countries," Gibbs said stubbornly. "End of story."
"Even if they're bad countries?" Jenny asked, arching a brow primly. "You're the one who seems to think the world is a black and white simplicity that consists of people you put in jail and people you don't, and that's fallacy, Jethro."
"Daddy, can I have the milk?" Madeleine interrupted quickly.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Jenny reprimanded immediately, reaching over Gibbs and snatching the milk from him. She politely handed it to her daughter and put her hand right back on her hip. Madeleine grinned. It was impossible to deter her mother in situations like these.
"Well?" Jenny demanded.
"I don't think the world is black and white," Gibbs growled gruffly. "Your hair's red."
Jenny turned to the coffee maker and yanked the glass decanter out, muttering under her breath. It sounded suspiciously like she called him an interfering, smart ass son of a bitch, but Madeleine couldn't be sure. She stole a glance at Dad, and he winked at her smugly.
Jenny handed Madeleine a mug of coffee and hung on to her own, giving Gibbs a defiant look. He took the point and got up to pour his own. Madeleine watched him, munching on a mouthful of cereal.
"You have got to stop shaking this guy down," Jenny growled.
"Yeah? Who's gonna make me, Madame Director?" retorted Gibbs. He still called her that sometimes, when he was feeling particularly brave. "The NSA?"
"As soon as I get the Attorney General to back me up," fired back Jenny. "You plan on bucking the authority of the highest law in the land?"
Gibbs took a sip of hot coffee.
"Yes," he answered boldly.
Madeleine sipped her own coffee and raised her eyebrows.
"Don't piss off Mr. Howard, Daddy, he has a nice pool," she reminded him. She enjoyed being invited to the Howards' summer barbecues because Mr. Howard's wife was sweet and their twenty year old son was pretty to look at, but she was sure if her father ran afoul of the Attorney General one more time, they'd be permanently banned.
Jenny looked furious.
"I don't want to have this fight while we're in Vermont," she insisted. "I need your word that you'll back off so we can put this behind us for Madeleine's sake."
"Aw, and ruin my fun?" muttered Madeleine, grinning into her mug. She put it down and went back to the cereal, checking her watch.
"You don't want to have this fight, then quit fightin'," retorted Gibbs bluntly. "He has connections to arms deals in the Palestinian territories. I can't reign Ziva in on this one."
"Don't give me that. Ziva would do anything for you," Jenny fired back. "And on another note, if you ever overrule me in a meeting like you did last Wednesday, I'll stay at the townhouse for a week and so help me God—"
"I didn't overrule you, you countermanded me!"
"Semantics!" barked Jenny.
Gibbs glared at her and pointed at her mouth.
"Dammit, Jenny," he growled, straightening his shoulders. "If I hear you say that one more time—"
"What?" goaded Jenny.
"She can't help it, Dad," Madeleine said, mumbling through a mouthful again. Her mother glared at her, and she just grinned. "It's her favorite word. She can't go a week without saying it."
"Yes, I very well can," Jenny said sharply. "Madeleine, for the last time, do not talk with food in your mouth or I'll never let you out of the house again. You'd think you were raised by wolves."
"I'm just sayin', you already said 'semantics' to me this morning when I tried to explain the difference between an Instagram and a Vine."
Jenny looked slightly more perturbed to be so betrayed by her daughter, and Gibbs got a smug look on his face and snapped his fingers thoughtfully.
"I bet you can't go a week without sayin' it," he challenged.
Jenny turned up her nose and scoffed. She folded her arms across her chest.
"What's the bet?" she asked.
"I win," he said, and paused. He smirked. "You marry me."
Madeleine perked up, grinning a mile wide. Jenny frowned. She opened her mouth to speak, cocked an eyebrow, and hesitated. She glanced at her daughter, saw the excited look on her face, and tilted her head back and forth.
"And if I win?" she asked softly.
"I'll never ask you again," Gibbs answered seriously.
Madeleine puckered her lips.
"Aba," she whined. She gave him big, puppy dog eyes. "I like it when you ask her. It's so cute."
"Nothing about your father is cute, Madeleine," Jenny said dryly. She bit her lip thoughtfully a moment longer, and then nodded. She held out her hand. "You have yourself a bet, Agent Gibbs."
Gibbs didn't take her hand. He leaned forward and kissed her quickly on the mouth. Jenny smiled and tucked a strand of hair behind her ears, turning towards the sink. Gibbs strutted back to the table and sat down across from Madeleine. She grinned at him.
"You ready for the game, Emmy?" he asked.
She nodded, her ponytail swinging.
"I'm the youngest my school's ever had on the pitching mound, you know," she reminded him proudly.
"I know, slugger."
Jenny suddenly slammed something down in the sink.
"We aren't done with our discussion, Jethro," she snapped suddenly. "Nice try distracting me with your little bet. I still want to know if you're going to do what I tell you or continue giving me hell."
"You aren't my director anymore, Jen," he retorted blithely. "Vance tells me to back off, I'll back off. NSA has no business in our case."
"He's our informant!"
"No, he's our suspect."
Jenny pushed her thick hair out of her face and threw her hands up, tapping her foot tensely.
"I am so sick of your infuriating talent for semantics, I can't even have a conversation with you—"
She stopped abruptly, her lips still parted. Startled, Madeleine dropped her spoon with a loud clang, staring open-mouthed at her mother. Gibbs, who was shocked by nothing, lifted his eyebrows slightly, expressing mild disbelief.
Jenny broke the charged silence by clapping her hand over her mouth.
"That wasn't even two minutes, Jen," mocked Gibbs slowly, cocking his head to the side.
Madeleine bit her lip and let out a squeal, leaping out of her chair. She expected her mother to start protesting immediately, to fight the terms of the bet, but Jenny just stood there, her hand on her lips, her eyes wide, staring at Gibbs. He got up and stalked out of the kitchen purposefully.
"Where's he going?" Jenny demanded tensely, her voice hoarse.
Madeleine grabbed the necklace at her throat and grinned madly, blowing her bangs out of her face. She danced around in a circle until she reached her mother and hugged her, burying her face near Jenny's shoulder. Jenny slowly lowered her hand and put it around Madeleine.
"Where did he go?" she repeated. She pulled away from her daughter and started to follow him, nearly running into him in the doorway. He caught her around the waist, and she stared at him, dumbstruck.
"You runnin' away from me again?" Madeleine heard him ask quietly.
"No," her mother answered. Gibbs stood back, holding her hand, and Madeleine inched up, arching her neck to see. His hand was in his pocket, so Madeleine clasped her hands and put them under her chin. "Don't," Jenny said. "Don't get on your knees, Jethro," she begged sternly. "I'll cry."
"Sore loser," he accused, drawing a white box out of his pocket—a white box Madeleine had seen in his toolbox. The outside of it was dusty and smudged with mysterious basement things, but when he popped it open, she saw that the inside definitely was not.
Madeleine gasped. She couldn't see her mother's reaction, but the silence was a good indicator that Jenny was both impressed and startled that he had a ring so beautiful just waiting for her. She reached out and touched the diamond, her manicured fingers running over it.
"Where did you get this?" she asked.
"Mexico," Gibbs retorted smugly. "That year you kicked me out."
She snorted, waving her hand, and tried to glare at him. Instead, she just wrapped her arms around his neck tightly, right there in the kitchen, mumbling that he was still an infuriating bastard. Madeleine whipped her cell phone out of her pocket and dashed over, managing to capture a picture of her mother hugging her father tightly while Gibbs fumbled to slip the ring onto her finger—with literally no help from Jenny.
"Oz," Madeleine called, and the old St. Bernard came slowly trotting out of the laundry room. "Oz," she cooed, going down on her knees and hugging him, phone still in hand. "The Parents are getting married, Oz," she whispered, burying her face in his fur.
She had pitched three perfect games at the tournament in Vermont that weekend and earned herself the permanent starting spot on her high school softball team. It was a feat she liked to attribute to her parents being so darn adorable.
They had been through a lot over the years, and she was mature enough to realize she didn't even know the half of it. Her parents were adamant that she know nothing of any serious fight or fracture that occurred in their relationship, and so she'd only really known of one or two really bad spots that had been impossible to hide.
When she was eight years old, her father had been injured badly in an explosion that put him in a coma and scrambled his brain. He had woken up thinking it was the early nineties and had constantly asked for Shannon and Kelly. Even after Ziva had snapped him out of it, he'd struggled for weeks on end—Jenny had said it was like he had to mourn and grieve all over again, and she'd kicked him out. Mike Franks had helped Jenny to try and shield Madeleine from it all, and had taken Gibbs to Mexico with him, but Madeleine still remembered the fight they'd had when Jenny told him he couldn't come back until he could stop calling Madeleine by Kelly's name.
She frowned to herself, shaking her head a little. He had been in Mexico for six months, and even though he'd called and written and done everything to make sure she knew he still loved her, she'd missed him more than anything in the world. Of course, the trip to Mexico to see if he was ready to come back had been fun. She hadn't seen him cry since she was really little and they found Kelly's lunchbox in the backyard, but he'd cried then.
He'd come back with them, but at that point Jenny had left her post at NCIS in favor of spending more time at home with Madeleine. She'd taken a position as a consultant with NSA, working part-time in linguistics. There had been another falling out a few years later that involved Ziva returning to Mossad and nearly losing her life in some African wasteland, but Madeleine had been eleven then and mostly absorbed in Abby and McGee's new baby twins.
It had always worked out. At the end of every day, her parents were sleeping in the same room and awake to see her in the morning. She knew unequivocally that there was no chance they'd break up, but to see them get married was still something she just couldn't stop smiling about.
"Gibbs," the guy in the chair in front of her turned around. "Get your feet off my chair. You're kickin' my back."
Madeleine made a face at him.
"Shut up, Aaron, you're lucky my feet are in your back," she retorted primly.
She flicked through another page of tweets on her phone, and then opened a text message she'd just received from her friend Delia.
Is Lauren taking you home, or am I? the text read.
Madeleine didn't have her own car, due to the unfortunate fact that she'd wrongly thought her parents were joking when they said she had to buy her own. She answered quickly. She needed Delia to do it today; she didn't want to fend of Lauren's begging again.
Madeleine tilted her head back and tossed her head, sweeping her bangs out of her face again. She grinned at no one in particular, and Aaron whipped around and knocked her feet off his chair.
Delia pushed up her dark sunglasses as Madeleine opened the car door.
"What time's the wedding again?" she asked, popping bubble gum loudly.
Madeleine bent down and squinted into the car, melting in the August sun.
"Eight, just after sundown," she answered. "Dad's going to light a bonfire once it cools off."
"Cool," Delia said. She frowned. "Is Emily Fornell gonna be there?" she asked.
"Yeah," Madeleine answered. "She hasn't gone back to Dartmouth yet." Madeleine grinned when Delia rolled her eyes. Emily and Delia didn't like each other, but they were civil enough in pleasant company. "Look, it'll be fine. You're not bringing Brent, so she won't act snotty."
"It doesn't matter how many times I tell Emily Fornell I didn't steal her boyfriend, she's a snot," retorted Delia. She put on a grin and shrugged. "Hey, make sure Jenny chucks the bouquet my way," she said wryly. "Right in front of Em."
"Please don't encourage my mom to piss off Diane Fornell any more than she already does," Madeleine said, rolling her eyes. She slammed the car door and waved as Delia backed out of the driveway.
Madeleine pulled her own sunglasses off and propped them on her head as she went up the front steps and opened the door. Oz didn't meet her at the door and she frowned, slightly surprised.
"Oz?" she called. He usually waited eagerly for her to get home so he could have some playtime in the backyard. "Oz!" she shouted.
She kicked off her shoes and threw her backpack down on the couch, searching through the halls. She was standing outside of her bedroom, peering inside, when her parents' door opened. She jumped, startled, and turned around.
Jenny stepped outside, pulling the door almost shut behind her. She wrinkled her nose warily and pushed her hair back. It tumbled down her back, and Madeleine glanced at the wrinkled T-shirt she was wearing.
"Why aren't you at work?" Madeleine asked.
"Why aren't you at school, young lady?" Jenny retorted sharply.
Madeleine raised an eyebrow.
"It's three-thirty," she pointed out.
"Oh," she murmured. "You have softball workouts," she reminded her daughter.
"No," drawled Madeleine. "Not on Fridays."
Jenny frowned. She rubbed her nose and tilted her head to the side.
"Where's my dog?" Madeleine asked.
"Wherever your father put him," Jenny answered. "Basement, backyard," she started, shrugging her shoulders. She shifted her feet, still standing awkwardly close to the bedroom door. Madeleine stared at her.
"Daddy's home, too?" she asked skeptically. She glared. "I'm supposed to have two hours of Madeleine alone time before one of you party crashers shows up," she paused and slowly took a step back. "Mom," Madeleine snapped very seriously. "What are you wearing?"
From the looks of it, Jenny was in Gibbs' wrinkled T-shirt and Gibbs' frayed boxers. She had bare feet and—smudged lipstick. Madeleine cringed.
"What are you guys doing?" she whined.
"Last minute wedding plans," Jenny deadpanned.
Madeleine glared at her.
"Liar," she accused. "Your right eye—"
"Damn him for ever telling you about that," growled Jenny under her breath.
On cue, Gibbs yelled at out.
"Jenny," he growled.
The woman in question turned her head towards the door.
"I'm scaring her away," she hissed back.
Madeleine wrinkled her nose, taking another step back. Jenny sighed heavily.
"My meetings ended early," Jenny began haughtily, "and your father's cases are—well, stagnant and," she winced. "Madeleine Jane, you're sixteen years old. Do I really have to explain to you what we're doing when we think we have the house to ourselves?"
Madeleine mumbled something sarcastically in Hebrew.
"What was that?" snapped Jenny, arching her brows.
Madeleine gave her a pained look.
"Can I borrow the truck?" she asked. She begged silently with her eyes—she definitely did not want to hang around the house right now. Jenny looked relieved and nodded. There was a thud, and scuffling, and Gibbs' head appeared behind Jenny.
"You can't take the truck," he groused at her. "You stripped the gears last time!"
Jenny elbowed him in the ribs.
"Take it," she reaffirmed. "Be careful on the freeway," she added, ever the watchful mother.
Madeleine nodded and darted off, stopping to turn and shake her head at them.
"Bad parents," she accused. "Bad, bad parents—you're getting married tomorrow!"
"Yeah, it'd be a shame if your mom lost her virginity before then," Gibbs joked.
Madeleine groaned in horror and dashed off, not even amused by the sound of Jenny slapping him and slamming a door angrily over his little jest. Completely forgetting about her tradition of playing with Oz when she got home, Madeleine grabbed Dad's keys off the hook and marched onto the front porch, slamming the door. She sat down and pulled out her cell phone, dialing her third speed dial number.
The call picked up almost immediately.
"Ziva," Madeleine said, relieved. "Can I go hang out at your apartment a little early? I caught my parents knockin' boots." She waited for Ziva to answer, and then sighed heavily, rolling her eyes. "What do you mean, you don't know what knockin' boots means? How long have you been a citizen?!"
Madeleine had already been planning to stay the night at Ziva's, as it was the site of the pseudo-bachelorette party that was going on. It was more of a girl's night in than anything, except Madeleine wasn't entirely sure she wanted to talk to her mom right now.
"It was bound to happen sometime," she muttered to herself, recalling her friends' horror stories of walking in on their parents having sex. Luckily she hadn't opened the door or anything, but couldn't her mom just have pretended they weren't there and stayed hidden?
Madeleine rolled her eyes, curling up on Ziva's comfortable couch with a bowl of hummus and some pita chips. She'd turned on the television to some Israeli soap Ziva had recorded and was listening to the dramatic Hebrew story while she casually jotted down ideas for what she could say at the wedding tomorrow.
It really was going to be a painfully simple affair, with Ducky presiding as the man of God, so to speak, so all the reception would consist of would be food and drinks and a bonfire. Madeleine still wanted to say something. These were the people who had put themselves through the ringer to raise her as safely and securely as it was in their power to do, after all. She owed them a lot, and she loved them very much.
She chomped on a pita chip in a very unladylike way. Ziva's cat pranced across her lap, crumpling the paper in her notebook, and Madeleine glared at it. She hated cats, and she made sure she let some pita crumbs get all over this one. Ziva had a cat because apparently, at a crime scene, a cat had once scared the daylights out of DiNozzo, inducing Ziva to promptly buy a kitten, name it Killer, and invite DiNozzo over to be terrorized by it.
Madeleine snorted at the thought, watching Killer as he slunk away towards his scratching post. He was a living symbol of the never-ending game that Ziva and DiNozzo played, and as far as Madeleine was concerned, Killer was half the reason they still hadn't hooked up. Of course, Madeleine's entire life revolved around scheming to get Ziva and Tony to hook up, so she was considerably biased.
Madeleine swept another pita chip through the hummus and tilted her head back thoughtfully, rummaging around for some words to put into her toast. She hated anything cheesy and cliché, and she knew her parents did, too, so she found herself at a loss. Her mother always said she was as bad at expressing herself as Gibbs was, but considering she'd grown up around a man who considered moving his eyebrows good communication and a woman who expressed herself by getting angry when she was really just scared, Madeleine thought she was doing okay.
Madeleine pulled her pen from behind her hear.
"Once upon a time there lived a strong-willed redheaded princess and a big old burly jerk that was kind of a white knight," Madeleine mumbled to herself, glaring at the cat when he stared at her with judgmental black eyes. She laughed again, swallowing her food. "MJ," she muttered. "That's the plot of Shrek."
"Talkin' to yourself? Knew I called you Mad Maddie for a reason."
Madeleine screamed. The cat streaked out of the room, startled, and Madeleine whipped around, managing to keep the hummus from spilling but scattering chips all over Ziva's couch. It wasn't even Ziva who had so stealthily snuck in on her—it was freakin' Anthony DiNozzo.
"You-!" Madeleine spluttered, chucking her pen at him violently. She glared at him viciously and he laughed, holding up his hands. He mumbled a half-hearted apology, and she bared her teeth.
"Hey, is Gibbs here?" DiNozzo asked warily. "I saw his truck."
"I took his truck," Madeleine retorted. "He left work early," she said, disgusted.
"Yeah, said he had something to do at home," DiNozzo drawled, bolting Ziva's door and leaving it open. He stretched and walked in like he owned the place. He walked into the kitchen, and Madeleine jumped up, darting after him.
"In case you were wondering, it was Mom," she said loudly, making a face.
"Uh," DiNozzo said, pausing as he pulled popcorn out of the cabinet. He raised his eyebrows. "What?"
"He's defiling my mother," groused Madeleine, sitting on one of the bar stools in Ziva's kitchen.
DiNozzo snickered, ripping open the popcorn with his teeth and grinning wryly at Madeleine.
"Pretty sure he's already defiled her," he joked.
"You're not funny, Pony," said Madeleine with a glare. She leaned back and stuck her tongue out at him for good measure. He shrugged, looking gleeful, and opened the microwave. He glanced at the clock on the stove.
"That's why you're here early," he muttered.
Madeleine cocked her head.
"Girl's night," clarified DiNozzo. "Ziva said it didn't start until eight."
"I couldn't stay in my house after that discovery," Madeleine protested, outraged. "Why, did Ziva not tell you I was here? Why are you here, anyway?" Madeleine asked suspiciously. "This isn't your apartment. You can't just help yourself to Ziva's popcorn," she reprimanded.
"Ziva is picking up snacks for you ladies," DiNozzo drawled gallantly.
Madeleine stared at him and raised an eyebrow.
"That doesn't explain why you're here," she pointed out. She tilted her head at him, giving him a pointed look. He looked away, eyes intently on the microwave. She continued to glare at him intently until he scowled.
"Stop it, Maddie, you look like Gibbs."
"I am your godfather, I order you to stop the Gibbs glare."
"Tell me why you waltzed into Ziva's apartment," retorted Madeleine, "and are now bummed to find me here."
"Hey, I'm not bummed."
"You're bummed," she said smugly.
DiNozzo frowned. The popcorn buzzed, and he pulled it out. He shrugged casually.
"I, uh, need to borrow some of her, uh, Mossad stuff for Gibbs' stag party."
"Worst excuse ever," fired back Madeleine. "What Mossad things would you need at a stag party?"
Tony glared at her.
"Mind your own business."
Madeleine studied him for a minute, and he reached over and snatched her notebook from her, scanning over it while he munched on popcorn. He narrowed his eyes, reading some of the notes and squinting at the scratched out lines. He swallowed and handed it back to her, tapping on it.
"Gibbs is gonna hate anything you say," he taunted.
"Daddy likes everything I say," Madeleine returned primly.
"He didn't like that time you said he was a stupid mean grouch who never loved you," DiNozzo pointed out wryly.
"Well, I was ten when I said that, and for the record—Mom's never spanked me harder in my life," she informed him.
"That one kind of hurt all of us, Mads. Gibbs loves you more than Bogart loved Bacall."
"Ew, don't compare me and Daddy's relationship to a married couple!"
"Fine—Rhett loved Bonnie?"
"Mmm," Madeleine agreed, grinning. "Perfect. Fitting," she added, smiling a little softer. "Since Kelly died."
DiNozzo nodded, offering her some popcorn. The cat hopped up on the counter and yowled at him, and Madeleine laughed when he jumped back. Ziva walked into her apartment, a confused look on her face, and then narrowed her eyes when she saw Tony.
"What the hell are you doing here?" she growled. "You drive me up the hall, DiNozzo—"
"Wall," Madeleine and Tony corrected.
"I do not care," snapped Ziva. She dropped her grocery bags on the counter and glared at DiNozzo. "How many times must I remind you that you do not live here?"
She punched his shoulder, and he snickered, leaping back. She tore the popcorn away from him, advancing menacingly.
"You are eating my snacks again. If you leave the bag on the floor again and Killer gets sick chewing it up—"
"You didn't notice either," DiNozzo pointed out, glaring at her. "You knocked it on the floor anyway, you little Israeli fiend."
"What were you guys doing when this happened?" Madeleine asked sweetly. "Date night? Heartfelt talk by the hearth?" she tried wickedly, arching her eyebrow.
That effectively snapped them out of it. They glared at her, and she winked flirtatiously.
"You two want me to leave so you can make-out?"
"Will you never give up?" Ziva asked.
DiNozzo pointed rudely in Ziva's face.
"I can't stand her," he declared dramatically.
"Right," Madeleine said sarcastically. She pursed her lips. "And the Tiva Denial Scale hits seven million points."
"Do not call us Tiva. We are not one of your television shows," Ziva growled.
"You're right," sighed Madeleine, scoffing. "You're more frustrating and way more blind to the obvious."
She took her notebook and hopped off the chair.
"Ziva, help me with this before Mom and Abby get here. Go home, Pony. Mentally prepare yourself to spring whatever stag party idea you've got on Daddy, because he's going to murder you no matter what it is…"
Abby was the last to arrive, and she arrived at ten. She wasn't typically tardy—
"Sorry I'm late!" she apologized breathlessly, closing Ziva's door securely. "Sebastian got lost in the supermarket again."
Madeleine and Ziva spoke at the same time, and both raised their eyebrows. Abby dropped her duffle bag and fanned herself, nodding brightly.
"How did you lose your child in the market?" Ziva asked in wonder.
"Again?" repeated Madeleine skeptically.
Abby flounced over and collapsed, patting her pigtails thoughtfully.
"Tim and I wanted to stop in real quick and get them some snacks. Sarah's going to take them to the movies, and we didn't want her to have to buy their treats," Abby stopped to take a breath. "So I asked Ned to hold Sebastian's hand—because he was screaming in the cart's little kiddie seat—and next thing I know, Cats took off down an aisle just for kicks and Tim darts after her, and while I'm looking after them for a split second, Ned and Sebastian ran off."
Madeleine burst out laughing. Ned and Cats were Abby's five-year-old twins. Their given names were Caitlin Sciuto McGee and Thomas Eddard McGee, after Kate Todd and McGee's alias, Thom E. Gemcity, respectively, but McGee had nicknamed the boy Ned and it had stuck. Cats got her nickname from Ned being unable to say Caitlin, and the fact that the only word she would say for five months was 'Cats'. Sebastian was the three-year-old, named so because Abby and Tim had decided to let the twins name him, and their favorite movie at the time had been The Little Mermaid.
"You lost Ned and Sebastian?" Ziva asked, eyes wide.
"No, Ned skipped right back over to me seconds later and informed he lost his brother."
"Oh my god, Ned's my favorite," Madeleine giggled. "He's always trying to lose Sebastian."
"I know," Abby said, crinkling her nose. "He tried to get me to leave him at the playground last week. At least Cats likes Sebastian, that's one out of two."
"Where's the bride to be?" Abby asked, glancing around happily.
"Oh, making drinks," Madeleine said breezily. She stood up. "I've got to get the cookies out of the oven," she added. "Abby, you pick a chick flick. We all picked one."
"What's on the table?"
Madeleine heard Ziva telling Abby what had already been chosen as she waltzed into the kitchen. She checked on the cookies in the oven—they still had five more minutes—and leaned on the counter while she watched Jenny craft some truly beautiful margaritas. Stealthily, Madeleine reached out to snatch one, and Jenny slapped her hand.
"Don't push your luck," Jenny said dryly. "I already agreed to let you have wine at the wedding tomorrow."
"Only because Dad said he'd spike my punch with whiskey if you didn't," retorted Madeleine smugly.
Jenny laughed and arched an eyebrow.
"I thought you had your fill of whiskey when he let you have that shot at your bat mitzvah."
Madeleine shuddered at the memory. She could not figure out what her parents liked about that nasty bourbon stuff. Jenny went back to salting the margarita rims with her patented mix of salt and lemon-flavored sugar crystals, and Madeleine titled her head, watching Jenny.
"Why'd you pick The Way We Were?" she asked casually.
"I like that movie."
Madeleine rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, but this is a bachelorette thing. You're supposed to pick Legally Blonde or Bridesmaids. Definitely Bridesmaids."
"I told you you were not allowed to see that movie," seethed Jenny, glaring at Madeleine. "I think the one time Diane Fornell and I agreed on something was when we both ripped Emily a new one for buying you a ticket."
Madeleine smiled sweetly. She arched her brows.
"Ima, seriously. You picked a tearjerker on your wedding eve."
Jenny sighed, straightening up and looking at her daughter for a moment.
"I like the ending of The Way We Were," she said tensely.
"No one likes the ending of it!" gasped Madeleine. "Hubbell leaves her! He leaves!"
Jenny nodded, lifting her hand. She placed it on her hip.
"Yes. He does. He chose not to be the better man. She put him through a lot, Madeleine, but she also did her best to work with him." Jenny paused. Madeleine waited, sensing she was trying to decide if she wanted to go on. Jenny narrowed her eyes. "Hubbell fell in love with an ambitious woman."
Madeleine bit her lip to keep a wide smile back. She blinked slowly. Ziva and Abby were laughing in the living room, and Ziva's cat prowled suddenly around Madeleine's feet, weaving in and out.
"I used to watch that movie all the time because I always thought my life would end up like that," Jenny said finally. "After I had you, I kept waiting for your father to decide he'd had enough."
"Aba isn't Hubbell."
Jenny nodded pointedly.
"He isn't. That move reminds me of what I have to be grateful for. I put Jethro through a lot."
Madeleine's face was soft. She knew well enough that many of the tense situations over the years had originated at her mother's hand, but she didn't really know the details of the story that had brought her parents back together after she was born. She knew they had met when they were partners in Paris and had been broken up when she was an infant, but all she could ever remember was them being together in spirit if not physically in the same country. She only had vague memories of living in Israel, with her earliest being when Daddy came for Easter and Tali died, and she knew in a bleary way that they had fought behind closed doors often when she was little.
More recently, she knew Jenny's job as Director of NCIS had provoked a lot of animosity, but her part time job at the NSA had been golden, and even now in her full-time position as an advisor they didn't clash too often.
"Mom," Madeleine said carefully. "I know we—look, I know you sort of set Daddy up with the bet because Mrs. Clinton advised you to get married but," Madeleine paused. "You do want to marry him, right?"
"Yes," Jenny answered firmly. "Of course I do. I've been with him for sixteen years, ahuva. I want to be with him sixteen more; why else do you think I'm sticking around?"
"No," she soothed gently. "You brought us back together, but if we were together just because of you, our lives would be miserable. No, Madeleine," Jenny sighed. "I love your father. The worst summer of my life was when he was in Mexico." She hesitated. "I almost left him then. He scared me. He's loved another woman, honey. He's had another family but I," Jenny broke off momentarily. "I've never loved another man."
"I never knew you were so scared," Madeleine said quietly.
"I wasn't going to dump my insecurities on an eight-year-old," Jenny said, matter-of-fact. "Besides, he's your dad, and I shouldn't even be telling you all this. You're too young."
"You're too young," repeated Jenny firmly. "I do want you to know that if Hillary told me I didn't have to get married, I'd still marry him. I was—tired of holding out," she admitted, stepping back to look at her ring.
Madeleine stepped closer and took her hand, admiring the diamonds.
"Ima," she said softly, murmuring in Hebrew. "I've never seen Dad look at another woman. Tim's a darling but his eyes still wander sometimes. Daddy," Madeleine shrugged lightly. "He never even looks."
Jenny turned her head and kissed Madeleine's forehead. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the comfort of her daughter for a moment, and then pulled away and picked up the tray of drinks, clearing her throat, blinking her eyes, and smiling wryly.
"Yes, well I happen to keep him very satisfied."
Madeleine glared at her and leapt back, just as the cookie timer went off.
"Ew, get away from me, you shrew," she groaned, waving her hands. She stomped to the stove and mumbled to herself, while she heard the other women harass Jenny about taking too long with the drinks.
Sixteen was a great age until her parents started thinking it was acceptable to acknowledge that they slept together.
Madeleine dashed up the stairs of the townhouse, gracefully avoiding Noemi and barreling into her bedroom. She made a face at the mess and looked around, shrieking in excitement when she found the petite little pearl tiara that Cats had been crying for all morning.
She grabbed it and dashed back down the stairs into the kitchen.
"I need a hairspray touchup!" she said desperately, presenting the tiara to Cats.
The adorable little dark-haired girl stopped crying immediately and put it on her little pig-tailed head, a grin a mile wide appearing on her face. Abby rolled her eyes in relief and went back to fixing Ned's bowtie.
"How come Bas doesn't have to wear a tie?" pouted Ned.
"Stop calling him Bas," Abby reprimanded. "If you wanted to name him something fishy, you should have gone with Flounder. Se-bas-ti-an," she pronounced clearly.
"Bas," Cats said stubbornly, throwing a handful of flowers into the air.
Abby rolled her eyes good-naturedly. Her children were rambunctious and vivacious, and though they were generally polite, they also tended to run wild of their own accord. Ziva helped Madeleine touchup her hair and smiled, complimenting it in quiet Hebrew. Madeleine grinned and left the kitchen, slipping into the study where her mother was.
"Do I look alright?" Jenny asked distractedly, as Madeleine shut the door. Madeleine leaned against the heavy oak study door and nodded encouragingly. There was a full-length mirror propped up against a bookshelf, and Jenny touched her hair again.
"Here," Madeleine came forward and held out her fist, clutching three necessities in her palm. She adjusted the flowers in her hand, and Jenny opened her hand to receive the items.
"Something borrowed," Madeleine said, pointing out the delicate pearl earrings with green and pink flowers painted onto them. Ziva had given them to her for her bat mitzvah, a gift from a seaside town in Italy. "Something new," she indicated the shade of lipstick she'd picked out. "Something blue." Jenny's garter was a pale lacy blue.
Madeleine bit her lip.
"Something old, I wasn't sure—"
"Taken care of," Jenny said.
Madeleine looked over her.
"What is it?" she asked, curious.
Jenny blushed suddenly. Madeleine glared at her suspiciously.
"If it's your panties—"
"I've had them since Paris."
"I'm moving back to Israel," she threatened, something she liked to say to joke around with her parents.
Jenny smirked and held out her hands; Madeleine handed her the white and yellow flowers she'd chosen to go with her pale green dress. They were eschewing all kinds of tradition, what with her green dress and pink shoes, and Madeleine's pink dress and green shoes. There wasn't even a wedding party. Madeleine was standing up with Jenny, and DiNozzo was standing up with Gibbs, but other than that—and Abby's kids being allowed to throw petals everywhere—it was small and tame.
Madeleine shared the mirror and touched up her lipstick, tucking the tube back between her breasts as Jenny had always taught her to do. She'd chosen the Peridot earrings and ring she'd gotten from Daddy for her bat mitzvah to go with the dress, and her Star of David necklace was present as always. She and Jenny had their hair done the same way.
"You look stunning, Mom," Madeleine whispered.
Jenny took a deep breath and looked over Madeleine, biting her lip.
"Madeleine," she breathed. "Oh, your father's going to hate this," she murmured. Their daughter looked nothing like a little girl and every bit like a woman. They were lucky she was far less concerned with her looks and with boys than she was with softball, Judaism, and scheming to get Tony and Ziva together.
Madeleine giggled and smoothed out her skirt.
"This is much more tasteful than what you let me wear to the Springsteen concert," she pointed out.
Jenny conceded that point with a nod and put her hands on Madeleine's shoulders. She smiled at her and then turned to the old desk in the study and poured a drink.
"Mom!" Madeleine cried with a laugh.
"You don't understand how nerve-wracking this is," Jenny muttered, shooting back a double shot of bourbon. She waited a moment and poured another. "I swore I'd never marry him."
"You're an oath breaker and a drunk and only God can save you now," Madeleine said primly. She pranced forward and kissed Jenny's cheek, squeezing her hand excitedly. "I'm going to stand up with Daddy."
"Madeleine," Jenny said, as she was leaving. Madeleine turned around. "He wanted to write our own vows. You know how he is with words. What if he—what if he doesn't take it seriously?"
"The vows are just semantics, Mom," she said smartly. "It's the feelings that matter."
Madeleine triumphantly convinced DiNozzo to go stand on Jenny's side so she could stand next to her father. Ducky was going to walk Jenny up any moment, and DiNozzo caved so he wouldn't be caught scowling in the middle of the makeshift aisle. The backyard of the townhouse was cozy, and since there was room set up to light a fire later, the sparse guests were in neat white folding chairs. Food was already out and ready, and all they needed was a wedding.
Gibbs smiled at Madeleine as she sidled up next to him.
"Your girl is lovely, Daddy," Madeleine whispered to him wryly. He gave her a funny look, and she just shook her head.
"She okay?" he asked gruffly.
"She might be drunk," Madeleine warned. Gibbs laughed. He reached out and wrapped his arm around his sixteen-year-old daughter's shoulders, hugging her to his side. She was starting to look so much like Jenny that it worried him, but her face was all her own, as well. He wondered if she still resembled Kelly, but he had nothing to compare it to. He'd stopped thinking she looked like Kelly when she'd safely and healthily turned nine years old.
"What are you going to say to her?" Madeleine asked quietly.
Gibbs didn't answer and though she poked his ribs through his suit and tried to make him talk, he refused her. She was fervently curious; she never really heard her parents make declarations of emotional love to each other. The most heartfelt thing she'd ever heard was when she'd eavesdropped on them in Mexico. They'd been out on the beach, and she'd snuck around Mike Frank's porch to watch.
"Come home, Jethro," she'd said shakily. "I shouldn't have forced you away from Madeleine, but she's so young and she was scared and it hurt her when you called her Kelly. I miss you. I need you to come home. I love you."
He'd taken her face in his hands.
"I know who you are, Jen. I never wanted you to be Shannon."
She would have stayed for more, but Mike Franks had found her and nearly skinned her alive for eavesdropping.
Dad let go of her abruptly, and she realized Jenny was standing in front of them. She'd been too lost in her reverie, with her head on Dad's shoulder, to realize Ducky was taking them up the aisle. Jenny tossed her bouquet to DiNozzo and he frowned; Madeleine giggled and blew him a mocking kiss.
Halfway through Ducky's ceremony, Cats scrambled out of Abby's lap and came to sit at Madeleine's feet—followed quickly by Ned and Sebastian. Abby and Tim hissed at them to come back, but Madeleine blithely allowed them to sit with her. She looked out over the crowd—the people who mattered were here.
Her friend Delia, who had grown up with her. Jimmy Palmer and his wife, Breena, Director Vance and his family, Ziva, the McGees, the Fornells-Diane with skeptically raised eyebrows and pursed lips, Maddie Tyler. Madeleine smiled even wider as she took in the people who were all really her family. She even caught Ziva flicking a rubber band at DiNozzo's ears.
"I believe the bride and groom have elected to say their own vows," Ducky said politely, stepping back.
For a moment, Madeleine didn't know who was going to start. Jenny bit her lip, and then laughed, tilting her head back slightly. Gibbs reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. There was old, swirling feminine writing all over it, and when Jenny took it, Madeleine saw a gut-wrenching sort of shock in her eyes. She just held it for a moment, looking at the heavily creased paper and the faded, yellowed writing.
Then she opened it, her hands shaking slightly, and Madeleine saw that the inside was covered in new, dark ink—in Gibbs' handwriting. Madeleine couldn't read what her father had written, but she squinted and leaned forward, trying to catch a glimpse of the old stuff.
The only words she saw were Paris and coward before her dad gently pulled her back and gave her a look telling her not to read it.
Jenny seemed to read the letter over and over, and then she lowered it and just stared at him.
"You kept it," she said hoarsely. "You kept it. This horrible thing I did to you and you—turned it into," she faltered, trying to find words. "It's like you built your vows on everything we got through," she broke off again.
Gibbs just looked at her, and Madeleine, vaguely unaware of what the damn piece of paper meant, just watched, enthralled. Tears sprang to her mother's eyes.
"You bastard," she said huskily. DiNozzo looked outraged, but Gibbs just snorted smugly. She held the letter he'd written closer to her chest, and bit her lip shakily. "You aren't supposed to be good at this. I—I don't know what to say."
"Don't have to say anything, Jen," he said firmly.
"I do," she said firmly, giving him a hard look. Gibbs looked over at Ducky and arched his brow, and Ducky looked taken aback.
"Ah, Jennifer, you haven't really said—vows."
"He wrote me his vows on the back of my Dear John letter," Jenny choked out. "I can't—I can't, Duck," she gasped. "Just marry us. The vows," she shot Madeleine a look. "They're just semantics."
Gibbs glared at her. She smiled, and a few tears fell from her eyes. She held the paper up to hide her face, then shrugged her shoulders and stepped closer, taking Gibbs' lapels in her hands. The letter crumpled some in her grasp, pressing into his suit. She stood there, very close to him, while Ducky said the final words. Madeleine held her breath as she watched.
"You may now kiss the bride," Ducky said, beaming.
Madeleine couldn't help it; when her mom tried to get a way with a demure little kiss and her dad dipped her backwards dramatically, she let out a squeal and jumped up and down, her eyes stinging. DiNozzo cleared his throat pointedly after good minute, and Gibbs stood back up. Jenny hugged him tightly, pressing her head into his chest.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Jethro Gibbs," Ducky announced proudly.
Jenny turned around politely.
"Oh, it's still Shepard—"
"What the hell do you mean it's still Shepard?" Gibbs asked loudly.
Madeleine picked up Sebastian McGee and hugged him, laughing brightly. Twenty seconds into married life, and nothing had changed.
The night was balmy and perfect, and the bonfire added the best touch to the atmosphere. Music was on, the cake had been cut, and food had been devoured and re-devoured. Abby's youngest was asleep in his father's lap, while her twins were eagerly roasting marshmallows with Abby's help.
Eleven-year-old Henry Fornell was following Delia around, probably at the behest of Emily, trying to get her to kiss him. Breena and Jimmy were canoodling by the fire, and DiNozzo had disappeared to fetch the wine.
Emily sat down next to Madeleine and handed her a plate of half-eaten cake.
"I couldn't finish my second piece."
"Mmm," Madeleine heartily accepted.
Emily nodded over at Jenny and Gibbs.
"So, did you find out what the letter shenanigans were about?" she asked.
"Ah," Madeleine said, stabbing the cake with a fork. "Yes. Ducky told me. It seems that when they broke up in Paris, it wasn't a mutual thing. My mom left a note on Daddy's pillow and bailed on him."
"Ouch," she drawled. "Aw, that's cute, though. What he did? Smooth Agent Gibbs, smooth. I've never seen Jenny cry like that."
"I have," Madeleine said vaguely.
Delia took a seat on Madeleine's other side, scowling.
"You shake off my brother?" Emily asked wryly.
"I set him on Agent David," Delia said. "When do you go back to Dartmouth, Em?"
"Two weeks," Emily said breezily. She smiled politely at Delia and glanced back at Madeleine. "I can't believe they got married. Dad swore she'd never do it," Emily remarked.
"I think MJ can thank Hillary Clinton for that one," Delia said with a laugh. "She wants Jenny as Secretary of State if she wins the election, but the Republican congress will bitch and moan incessantly if she's not married."
Emily shrugged and nodded. She tapped her nails on her knee, playing with the edge of her dress.
"Your parents are crazy, MJ," she said, shaking her head.
"I know," Madeleine said with a laugh. She grinned, licking icing off her fork. Emily snapped her fingers.
"Remember that time Jenny found out Gibbs was forging her signature on NCIS files and refused to speak in anything but French for a week?"
"Yeah, but that was so not as good as the time Jenny showed up to pick MJ and I up from softball practice with this massive hickey on her neck and claimed she burned herself with a curling iron."
"She did," Madeleine said seriously.
Delia and Emily laughed at her.
"You're an idiot, Mads."
Madeleine glared at Delia, but Emily patted her head patronizingly.
"It's okay Miss Never-Been-Kissed," she soothed. She grinned. "I just always loved being at your house because Jenny and Gibbs were so funny. They fought like, all the time, but it was always cute fighting. So cute."
Madeleine rolled her eyes.
Emily was right; her parents bickered. It was sport for them; it was how they flirted. It was fascinating and hysterical to watch. Madeleine had come to love it over the years. They only thing they had never bickered over was how to discipline her. On that, they were an unfairly united front. They always agreed on what her rules were from curfew to when she could date—seventeen—and they made it a point to always be there when she was at a game or a recital. She'd abandoned figure skating for full time softball when she was twelve, and they had supported that completely.
Madeleine spied Tony coming back with the wine, and she got up and darted over, helping him to open the bottles and pour glasses. She had them handed out and was climbing up on a table before people could realize what was going on. She swept off her heel and tapped it against the glass, waiting for silence.
"Madeleine," hissed Jenny, annoyed. "Get off that table, I can see up your dress."
Madeleine rolled her eyes, well aware her mother was exaggerating. She retorted with a pointed glance at Jenny's leg, which was in Gibbs' lap. He was toying with the blue garter, and that was Madeleine's confirmation that her mother was definitely drunk.
"I have things to say," Madeleine said primly, looking around. "Sixteen years ago, a wonderful even occurred. I was born," she announced, taking a mock bow. Abby and DiNozzo snickered. "I lived with my mother in Israel until I was three years old, and my dad did everything he could to be in my life." Madeleine touched her necklace. "I moved here with Daddy when I was three and a half, and it was Mom's turn to struggle with seeing me. These two made sure that I grew up knowing both of my parents would do anything in the world for me, including fly across it. I listened to Dad propose to Mom constantly for most of my life. It was the wittiest game I'd ever seen—neither side wanted to take a hit to the pride and cave." Madeleine smirked wryly and raised her brows.
"Here we've got Dad thinking he won, because he bet Mom she couldn't go a week without saying one damn vocabulary word, and she said it within twenty seconds. But we've also got Mom thinking she won, because she lost on purpose so Dad would marry her before she's nominated as the next Secretary of State." Madeleine grinned. "So whose pride is wounded?" she asked, and tossed her hair confidently. "Aba, Ima—you've both been played."
Jenny raised her eyebrows, and Gibbs glared. Madeleine raised her glass to them gallantly.
"Mrs. Clinton asked me what I wanted for my birthday when I turned fifteen. I asked her to tell Mom she needed to get married. Then I told Dad Mrs. Clinton was going to tell Mom to get married," Madeleine paused, and her smirk was a perfect replica of her father's. "I turned sixteen three weeks ago, and my parents got married today, after countless years of facing obstacles men and women who love each other should never have to face. Aba, I know that diamond you gave her doesn't change the fact that she's a political mastermind who steals your hand tools when you misbehave at NCIS. Ima, I know in spite of his vows, he's still an infuriating bastard but as far as bastards go," Madeleine hopped off the table and pointed straight at her father. "He's the only one this family's got now."
She took a drink, and the guests followed her, giving her a round of applause. A moment later, she had a bouquet and a garter flicked at her, and after swatting them away, she saw the smirking, proud faces of her parents staring back at her. She walked up to them, holding her wine glass in her hand.
"I love you guys," she said brightly, kissing her mother's cheek and then bending down to hug her father. He held her tightly, running his hand over the back of her head like he used to do when she was very little. She leaned back and smiled at him, and looked over at Jenny and tilted her head. "When you come back from Paris this time," she started, biting her lip thinking of their honeymoon destination. "Don't leave Daddy."
Jenny leaned over into Gibbs and let him put his arm around her.
"I won't," she said smugly.
Madeleine stepped away from them, picking up the bouquet and the garter. She decided the garter hadn't been too far up on Mom's leg and slung it around her wrist. The bouquet, she chucked violently at Ziva, who caught it with excellent skill and happened to accidentally look right at Tony.
Madeleine cackled. She swung the garter around her wrist and clutched the Star of David necklace at her throat. Ziva, after throwing the flowers into DiNozzo's face, prowled up next to Madeleine and examined the garter herself, arching an eyebrow.
"This was around your mother's thigh," she pointed out.
"Gibbs was stroking it. I witnessed this," Ziva goaded slyly.
"He's the one who flicked it at my face," Madeleine retorted, shooting a glare at her father. She made a face. Her parents were definitely making out over in their little corner. Ziva smiled and tilted her head, studying Madeleine quietly.
"Madeleine," she asked. "Did you ever feel as if your life was dysfunctional?"
Madeleine looked over at Ziva. She and the Israeli were immeasurably close, almost like sisters despite the age gap between them. Ziva had found a home in their family, a stability that she had never had in Israel. She wondered if Madeleine felt the same, or if it was different for the little girl who had been separated from one parent or the other for so long. What Ziva saw as stability, may have been dysfunction to Madeleine.
Madeleine pursed her lips. She looked around her, looked at her parents, and smiled.
"No," she said honestly. She shrugged, biting her lip, and met Ziva's eyes. "I was always loved."
Mishpokhe: hebrew for family.