One Month Later
Glancing over at his agent, currently trying to catnap in the passenger seat, Gibbs had to grin. It had been a very tiring four weeks, no doubt about it. He had been helping Tim with as many of the details as he could that involved getting ready to become Kathleen's guardian. That included making sure all pertinent questions were asked and answered by the lawyer, attending the court hearings with the younger man and even slowly introducing himself to Kathleen as a friend of her Mommy's. The court gave Tim four weeks to pull all the arrangements together and assume guardianship; to get everything done had been…a rather intense race against time! As promised, he helped Tim temporarily settle in with him while everything got ironed out.
Luckily, with Tim requesting a leave of absence specifically tailored for adoptive parents, squeezing time in around work had not been an issue. On his own, Tim met and spoke in depth with his new ward's pediatrician, the nanny who had taken care of Kathleen since the first business trip Thom had had to take after her birth, and even the lawyer's wife who was currently caring for the youngster. With increasing lengths of time spent with Kathleen and in learning what she liked to eat and all of her other likes and dislikes as well as her routine, there was little room for anything else. Even Jethro seemed to notice that his human wasn't around much and had begun to seek attention from Gibbs rather than Tim.
Three weeks ago, after watching the young man's dedication and tireless effort for nearly a week straight, the Team Leader sat him down and forced him to take a minute to breathe and some time to relax. Though Tim hadn't fought him on it, he had been quick to dive right back into his "to do" list with breakneck speed, working to get everything done and Gibbs had let him get to it, only prepared to step in when he deemed a break was necessary.
With all this going on, Tim was now spending longer and longer hours with Kathleen, establishing a new and hopefully solid relationship with the little girl. These visits exhausted him more than anything else but Tim had taken the boss's words to heart and allowed himself down time when he needed to. He may have had a sibling 8 years younger than him growing up, but it had been ages since he'd had to keep up with a preschooler's endless supply of energy.
Ever since he'd begun spending time with Kathleen, Tim had taken to talking to Gibbs about it at the end of the day, when his boss wasn't working late. Gibbs enjoyed hearing Tim's take on how things had gone with Kathleen, to whom he was fast becoming attached. They were both relieved and found a sense of peace in knowing that everyone new appearing in the little girl's life, even as briefly as the judge, spoke to her as a friend.
In order to let her know they weren't perfect strangers suddenly just showing up in her world, they introduced themselves to her as friends of her mommy's, since there were signs of Kate everywhere in her daughter's life. From photos of Kate and Thom in every room of the house, to pregnancy photos that mirrored the ones in the book, it was obvious that Thom McAllister had done his best to keep the memory of Kate alive for the daughter who had never gotten to meet her.
As beautiful as her mother, with her gorgeous mane of hair that perfectly matched Kate's and with the smile to match, Kathleen had innocently burrowed her way into Gibbs' heart the minute they'd met at the lawyer's office, that first morning after the team dinner.
With Tim standing beside him, he'd shackled his self-control and silently pushed the younger man to make the first move, to allow the visit to focus on the more important relationship that needed to be developed. He hadn't been able to hide the smile that fell to his lips as Tim had stammered his way through the introductions.
"Hi. Kathleen, My name's Tim."
"Mommy's friend, Tim? The one in the picture?" The little girl asked with a smile that brightened the entire room.
While she waited for her answer, she pulled a photo from the toy purse she was carrying on her wrist, the edges worn and nearly torn, a testament to how much the photo was handled; of the team with Kate standing proudly among them.
"I broughted it with me when Nanny Cart told me you were comin' to see me today."
"Yes, your mommy's friend." Tim replied, smiling back at her as he carefully took the photo she offered and stared at it for a moment before giving it to the boss.
Kathleen's face lit up brightly as she reached for Tim and gave him a big hug. As he gently hugged her back, he looked up and saw Gibbs approving look, despite the sad reminder presented them by the photo in his hand.
Tim knelt by the little girl whom he hoped the courts would allow him to raise. Regardless of the judge's decision, he had every intention of staying in her life now; to drop back out would be a cruelty she did not deserve. "Kathleen, there's another friend of your Mommy's here, his name is Gibbs."
Kathleen's smile appeared again as she reached out to Gibbs for a hug and said, "You're in the picture, too! Hi Gibbsy!"
As he hugged back, Gibbs sent a half-hearted glare at his junior agent's suppressed grin.
These past three weeks had been busy for the entire team as they juggled work with spending time with Kathleen. After Tony, Ducky, Jimmy and Abby each met Kathleen separately, with Tim firmly entrenched by her side during each visit, today was the final step they needed to take. Once that was accomplished, the entire team would be on board to help and support Tim in caring for the little girl. Today was the day Ziva would meet Kate's daughter.
Gibbs knew it was a step that had kept Tim up late last night with worry, despite Ziva's reassurance that she was completely willing to meet Kathleen now that the other introductions were done. Everyone who had met her was already forming their own bond with her and now it was Ziva's turn. The new guardian was just not sure it would turn out as well as they were hoping, not because he lacked faith in Ziva but because she obviously did. Having had a fairly restless night himself, Gibbs had slipped downstairs for coffee, and noticed the younger man standing at the doors to the back porch, staring out into the night
Now, glancing over once more at his agent curled up against the car window, Gibbs sighed with tired relief. He knew this rest for Tim was hard won so he didn't treat him to the usual reward for sleeping in the car with Gibbs behind the wheel. That thought brought to mind the time he'd done that while Kate had been riding shotgun and he'd treated Tony to it. As the memory played out in full detail, he couldn't help but smile. It had been one of the funnier moments that year.
An excited series of woofs from the back seat refocused his thoughts on the German shepherd currently making sure his presence hadn't been forgotten. With a smirk, the Team Leader greeted Tim's return to wakefulness. "Guess he's pretty excited to be included on this excursion."
Tiredly, Tim wiped his hand across his face and shifted in his seat to get comfortable. "Yeah, I'm just thankful Kathleen took to him so well."
"Not sure who was more upset about the muzzle, her or Abby." Gibbs remarked offhandedly, with a grin at the recollection of the four year old's outrage that 'the nice doggy had his mouth wrapped up'.
Tim's reply was all seriousness. "I know. I'm still leery of the whole idea though, Boss. It doesn't matter to me if Abby stays mad at me about it. I feel better knowing the muzzle's in my hands and easy to put on him if we need to."
"You're doin' fine, McGee. Abby'll get over it soon enough."
"I'm not so sure. I don't understand why she hasn't already." Tim muttered as he laid his head back and closed his eyes. "Not like anyone's trying to hurt him."
"She knows that, Tim. She's just …" Gibbs let the sentence drop.
"Being Abby." Tim finished. "Thanks for helping me with all this, Boss." Tim changed the subject. "I could never have done this without you."
"It was a team effort, McGee."
"No. I mean, I know that. But that's not what I'm saying." Letting out his breath in a frustrated rush, Tim looked away. "Never mind."
"I get it, McGee."
"I'm not sure you do, Boss. Understand how much I appreciate it, I mean." Tim glanced at him. "I never expected it. Not because you wouldn't want to; but because it means asking you to… I don't know…"
"Tim, Kathleen isn't replacing Kelly. Doesn't mean there isn't room for her." Gibbs told him quietly.
"That's my point, Boss. That's what I appreciate the most."
"Like I said, McGee. I get it."
Tim nodded. "Okay."
Gibbs changed the subject. "You ready for the final hearing on Monday?"
"As ready as I can be. We've taken care of everything the judge required. Everything that's been set up in the family business for control measures will stay the same so Kathleen's inheritance isn't in any danger. Everything else in her life is staying the same, except us. I think as long as the judge sees for himself that she's comfortable with us, he'll sign off on the final paperwork."
"You gonna move into the house as soon as he does?"
"I thought I should. You know, get her back on a routine. Kids thrive on it. I'm just glad I'll be able to include you guys in that routine. Maybe start getting together for dinner on Sunday nights at Kathleen's or something."
"It'll be your place, too, McGee."
"I know, Boss. But it won't feel like it. Doesn't mean I won't like it there though."
"Mm-mmm. Still planning on transferring off my team? "
"Not unless I have to, Boss. But for Kathleen's sake, I think I'll start wearing a Kevlar."
"Not a bad idea, McGee. You work that out with the nanny?"
"Oh, yeah. She's got another two weeks off until I have to go back anyway. So everything's worked out, Boss."
When they reached the lawyer's home where Kathleen was still staying, Tim hopped out of the car to get the little girl. He had told her he had a special surprise for her today and to be ready for a day in the park. As he walked in the door, she ran to him and hugged him tightly.
Hugging her back, he smiled at his little girl, "Are you ready for your surprise?"
Grinning widely, the little girl nodded, "Yep, Tim, let's GO!"
Taking her hand, the two walked to the car and Tim buckled her into her safety seat. She waved to "Gibbsy" in the front seat and then spotted Jethro in the back of the car and called hello to him, giggling.
"Is Jethro my surprise?"
"He's part of it, sweet pea!"
They drove to the park and found a parking space near Ziva's car. As Tim helped Kathleen climb out of the car, he held her for a minute.
"Sweet pea, you know how all the people you've met, Ducky, Tony, Jimmy and Abby, were all friends of your mommy's?"
At her nod, he continued. "Today we're going to have lunch and play with another friend of mine and Gibbsy's," he said, feeling bold and ignoring the death glare he was sure he was getting from his boss. "She didn't know your mommy. We didn't get to know her until later. She works with us now, just like the others and she wants to get to know you too!"
"Ok. What's her name?" Kathleen asked.
"Almost, here, try putting your tongue like this, watch…zzzz" Tim demonstrated as Kathleen laughed.
"Ok, Daddy, I can do it. ZZZiva!"
Tim, trying not to look as stunned as he felt by her calling him Daddy, could only look to Gibbs for help. Of course the man jumped right in.
"That's right, Katydid, Ziva!"
Jethro took that moment to remind his people he was still penned in the back of the SUV and would appreciate being let out, now please. Tim regained his senses and put his hand out for his little girl to take,
"That was great, sweetie, c'mon, let's get Jethro out of the car and go meet Ziva!"
After giving his new favorite human a big doggie smile, Jethro behaved himself as he led his family into the park. When he spotted another favorite of his, he gave a happy bark and pranced a little. Kathleen giggled again, saying, "Ziva must be nice, Daddy, Jethro really likes her!"
Tim swallowed and smiled brightly at his child, "She's a very special person, sweet pea."
Ziva had been sitting on the picnic bench, waiting and rose when she saw the group approaching. Wiping her hands nervously, she walked towards her friends and Kate's daughter.
Kathleen, detaching herself from Tim's hand, skipped up to Ziva and said
"Hi Ziva, I'm Kathleen. I like your name, it's fun to say!" Standing in front of Ziva, the little girl politely held out her hand to shake.
Ziva, swallowing past a crump, bump? no, lump in her throat, smiled at the lovely little girl, reached out, took her hand and shook it gently.
"Hello Kathleen! I like your name too, it has a wonderful sound to it and I am very happy to meet you!"
"Do you want to come play fetch with me n' Jethro?" She turned and looked at Tim,
"Is that alright Daddy, she's a grow'up like you and Gibbsy, isn't she?"
"Yes, sweet pea, she is." Tim had decided to just go with the flow with the "Daddy" issue and try his very best not to worry about it. Really. Time to concentrate on Ziva and Kathleen; see how well they're doing! She called me Daddy again, is that alright, isn't it too so…NO Ziva and Kathleen, FOCUS, McGee!
Gibbs stepped up, "Tell you what, why don't I take him for a potty break first, then you can play fetch with him."
"Ok Gibbsy!" Said the little girl, still holding Ziva's hand and now swinging their arms.
Ziva gave a start at her boss's new nickname and barely contained a snort of laughter. She sobered, then gave a quick nod when Tim caught her eye and held up the bag that she knew contained Jethro's muzzle. She hoped it would not be necessary, but she would be extra vigilant guarding the safety of this wonderful little girl, her new friend.
By late morning, the rest of the team had arrived, had greeted Kathleen and casually gotten busy with something that either would or would not garner her attention, in a deliberate ploy to not only keep from smothering her, but also keep her entertained and opening up to new ideas while getting to know them. As Jimmy and Tony played a rather high-spirited game of Frisbee with each other, Tim and Ducky set up a chess board on the picnic table and were dividing their attention between it and Kathleen's unending excited energy as she danced to the noise on Abby's personal cd player and in the meanwhile cheered Tony and Jimmy on in turn, obviously having no favorite just yet.
As lunch time arrived, games were put away and the coolers brought out and before too long, everyone was sitting down to self-made sandwiches, pre-packaged cold salads and chilled bottled water. The latter having been Tim's request since he hadn't wanted to either entice Kathleen with sodas or have everyone drink them in front of her. Even with everyone looking at him like he was crazy for even thinking such a thing, he hadn't changed his mind, much to the amusement of his teammates.
Once the lively lunch was over, Tim shook the blanket out and encouraged Kathleen to stretch out with him, claiming he, at least, needed a nap. As she giggled at the thought of a grownup needing a nap, she snuggled with him, making sure Jethro was taking a nap with her, one of her hands on his soft fur at his collar.
With a silent plea to the others that they stay watchful and keep the muzzle handy, Tim succumbed to the exhaustion he'd been unable to catch up with lately.
The sound of Kathleen's priceless laughter woke him sometime later and Tim was quick to sit up and look around him. Safe and sound, not twenty feet away, his team were all smiles as Kathleen hugged Jethro, one of her little arms wrapped around his neck with no sign of fear or worry. "Now, you have to stay, Jethro so we can go swing." The perky preschooler gently admonished the German shepherd.
Tim swore he could see the dog's ears move as if he was actually understanding everything she said. With a smile on his face, he watched as the little girl that was almost his, walked up to where all of them were sitting and stopped in front of Ziva with her hand outstretched, hope in her eyes and a question. "Will you come swing with me?"
Tim watched as together they walked hand in hand to the swings, trailed by everyone but Gibbs and Ducky, and smiled happily.
Yep, this was going to work out just fine!
A/N: A very special "THANK YOU" goes out to every single reader and reviewer - all of whose insightful thoughts and comments were most helpful and appreciated.
Again, thank you!
To my BETA - Gottahavemyncis - you rock! Couldn't have done this without you. THANK YOU!