a/n - Just a one shot today. These stories will vary in length from possible drabbles to multi-chapter stories with plot, but each one will basically stand alone. Eventually I'll have to deal with the fall out from 10x11, but not for quite a while in this universe. I've got some crazy ideas, but I want to see what the show does first. No more in this universe for a few days, I won't post stories in this series until I've finished them and the next one has several chapters.
"Thanks for doing this, Boss." Tim climbed out of the back seat of the yellow Challenger after latching the car seat in place. He left the passenger seat folded forward to let Tia in.
"Not going to let you face this on your own, either of you." Gibbs turned and held his arms out for the little girl standing a few feet away. Tim had refused to dress her in solid black for her mother's funeral, opting for a blue taffeta dress covered in black lace with a black net pettycoat. Tiana immediately went to him for a hug before being handed over to her father. Usually she wanted to climb into her car seat without help, but today she clung to Tim.
Tim didn't argue, knowing how rough the day was going to be. Once he had the straps snug and the buckles fastened, he kissed the top of her head and straightened up just in time to see several more cars pull into his driveway. Jackie Vance stepped out of the first car, dressed in black linen with pearls. Abby was out a few seconds later, wearing the black velvet he'd seen her wear to several funerals over the years. Ducky, Jimmy and Breena emerged from the second car, all also dressed for the upcoming funeral.
"Wow, guys, I don't know what to say."
"Really, Timothy, you didn't think we'd allow you and Tiana to deal with this dreadful day on your own? Now, where is my darling granddaughter?" Ducky moved over to Gibbs' car to hand Tiana a book for the ride.
Abby kissed Tim's cheek as a third car pulled up, tires squealing. "We're family, remember?"
Tony and Ziva joined them, in the middle of what appeared to be an ongoing argument.
"It's my car, Ziva, so I'm driving. Today's going to be stressful enough for the Probie."
"McGee is riding with Gibbs and my car gets better gas mileage."
"I'm not riding all the way up there with my knees up around my ears." Tony turned and hugged Tim, thumping him on the back. "Hey, Buddy, how ya' doing?"
"Hanging in there. I can't believe the Director was able to shuffle things around to let everybody come with us."
"Yep, and that reminds me – we're supposed to wait a few minutes, Vance's meeting at the Pentagon is done and he's having his driver drop him off here."
By the time Vance arrived, routes had been planned and programmed into various GPS systems and the convoy was ready to pull out of the driveway.
Tim was sitting behind Gibbs so he could see the other man's face in the rear view mirror. When he discovered that the book Ducky had given Tiana was an electronic book that sang songs in addition to the read-along adventures, he expected some grumbling from the other man. What he wasn't expecting was to hear Gibbs singing along with he and Tiana before they even reached the freeway. Even better was the expression on Tony's face in the next car over when Gibbs' head started to bop along with the song.
Tia squealed and clapped her hands when they came to the end of the last song and immediately started it up at the beginning. In the mirror, Gibbs grinned at Tim and started singing again.
It had been many years since Gibbs had spent a car ride singing, but he remembered it like it was yesterday. He'd started to sing along with Kelly to annoy Shannon's mother, but it had made Kelly so happy that they'd sung together until they were both hoarse. He'd have thought the memories would be painful, but duplicating the experience with Tiana reminded him of the joy of his little girl, not the pain of losing her way too soon. Gibbs glanced over to see Tony staring at him and he exaggerated his movements.
"What is Gibbs doing?" The hissed question brought Ziva's head up from the novel she was reading. She stared at the other car, taking in the rhythm of Gibbs' movements of his mouth and head. Her eyes widened and she leaned closer to Tony to see past him.
"If I did not know better, I would say he is singing."
"Boss don't sing."
"Well, that is what it looks like. Do you have a better suggestion?"
"No, but..." Tony glanced over again, now both Gibbs' and McGee's heads were moving in the same rhythm. "Singing?"
Ziva sent a text to Abby, who was riding with the Vance's and a few minutes later, the large SUV eased up closer to the Challenger and Tony could see Vance laughing. When Ziva's phone received an answering text, the Israeli laughed, too.
Tony waited, but became impatient when Ziva didn't fill him in. "Well?"
"She agrees, Gibbs is singing. So is Tiana, and McGee. Director Vance wanted to know if Abby has any recording devices with her to plant in the car for the trip home."
"So, does she?"
Ziva closed her phone with a smile. "No, but she has decided to start carrying some."
Arriving at the church, Tia quieted, clinging to Tim when he took her out of her car seat. Several people smiled at Tiana, a few nodded at Tim, but the majority ignored them. Surrounded by their friends, Tim and Tiana sat several rows behind the rest of the family. Tim set Tia on his lap and Gibbs sat next to them, his arm across the back of the pew behind Tim, letting Tia play with the fingers on his other hand.
The funeral was stiff and formal and Tim knew Grace would have hated it. He'd prepared a few words to tell of the woman he'd known, but no one was allowed to speak, probably due to her mother's fear of someone outing her daughter's memory. From across the church, Tim exchanged looks with some of Grace's friends from work. They looked annoyed, but no one wanted to cause a scene by interrupting the carefully laid out plans.
After the last prayer, the mourners filed past the casket on their way out. Tia looked at it, puzzled. "Mommy's in Heaven, why is there a box?"
Tim froze, not expecting the question, so Gibbs stepped in. "All of this is for the people she left behind. To help us remember."
She seemed satisfied with the answer, at lest for now and Tim turned away from the casket to find himself face to face with Grace's mother. Tia burrowed against Tim as he made the introductions. "Boss, this is Gladys Miller, Grace's mother. Mrs. Miller, this is Jethro Gibbs, my..."
Gladys gave a brittle smile at Tiana's announcement. "I should have known."
Gibbs decided to deliberately misinterpret the comment. "Of course, I'm sure you know how important it is for Tia to be surrounded by a loving family at a time like this." His grin widened as he took over for Tim and introduced the various aunts and uncles, ending with Grandpa Ducky.
"What an – interesting – family you have."
"It works for us."
She didn't bother to respond as she walked away. Several of Grace's friends from work joined the group, inviting them to a second, more informal, gathering at a nearby restaurant. Vance had been on the phone and rejoined them as the offer was made.
"Unfortunately, the team and I have to head back. We've got a case." When Tim straightened up, Vance shook his head. "Not you, McGee. You're on leave, remember? Gibbs, I'll brief you tomorrow and we can make a decision."
"Appreciate that, Leon."
The group meeting at the restaurant was a mixed lot. Tim recognized several co-workers he'd met over the years, but also a woman Grace had dated and several of her friends. Grace's former boss explained.
"We respected Grace's decision to leave her personal and private lives separate, but most of us knew, especially near the end. It's a pity her mother was such a – well, I'm sure you can fill in the blanks." She glanced down at Tiana, not wanting the little girl to hear the words she would have used to describe her grandmother.
Tim gave a brief nod. "I totally understand."
Over the next few hours dozens of stories were shared about Grace and Gibbs learned a great deal about the woman he'd never had the chance to meet. He learned of her wicked sense of humor and her passionate desire to improve the world. Tim told of how she'd taught him to stand up to the bullies of the world and supported him in his decision to become a federal agent instead of a Naval Officer as his father had planned. Little Tiana remembered the elaborate games her mother would play with her before showing her mother's friends a copy of the drawing.
It was a quick snapshot taken of the framed picture up on the wall, a lot of the detail lost in the glare of the glass and the reduction in size, but it was enough to show and her mom's friends oohed and aahed over it, several of them tearing up.
"This is exactly how your mother would want you to remember her." Grace's ex-girlfriend looked over at Tim while she discreetly wiped at her eyes. "What a wonderful thing to do."
After another hour, the three of them left, Tim taking a few minutes to help Tia change into the more comfortable leggings and top that were in her go bag in Gibbs' trunk. The menu at the fancy vegetarian restaurant hadn't inspired anyone's appetite, so just as they were arriving back in the DC area, Gibbs pulled off the road and turned into a parking log. Tim's eyes widened as he saw the brightly colored building and the image of a large mouse, dressed in a purple shirt and a baseball cap.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm a Marine, I can handle it."
Tim just snickered and went to wake the sleeping child. "Hey, Sweetheart, you hungry? How about some pizza?
"Pizza?" She sleepily rubbed her eyes as she looked around, spotting the waving mouse. "Daddy, look."
"I see him. You ready to go say hi?"
Now wide awake and bouncing, Tia took her father's hand and automatically reached out for Gibbs'. Smiling, he took her hand and the three of them walked into the noisy pizza joint. Their first stop was to let Tiana greet the mouse, the bored teenager inside the suit making all the right noises to please the little girl.
Insisting on paying for the food, Tim left Tia with Gibbs as he went to order. By the time he was through the line, Gibbs was helping Tia play whack-a-mole and she was accumulating a pile of tickets.
When the pizza arrived, Tiana didn't want to stop playing, but Gibbs stepped in before Tim could say anything. "Remember our deal?" She hesitated, but eventually nodded before sitting down at the table and Gibbs explained their deal to McGee. "We'd play the games, but she had to eat when the pizza was ready, and if she ate all her food, we could play again after dinner."
"No, creative negotiations."
True to his word, once they'd demolished the pizza, Gibbs fed the token machine and they hit the games again, this time with all three of them playing. By the time they had used the last token, Tiana had enough tickets for a stuffed ladybug and her choice between an annoying noisemaker and a glider. Tim sighed as the noisemaker went with them and Gibbs leaned close to whisper in his ear.
"Toy rule number one. The more annoying it is, the longer it lasts."
Tia wasn't the only one with that particular toy and Tim winced at the sound. One of the clerks grinned. "Eventually, you become immune to it." After the stamps on the men's hands were checked against the one on Tiana's they went out to the car. Tiana was asleep before they were back on the freeway, while Tim lasted a few miles longer. Gibbs drove in silence, enjoying the sensation of being a parent again.
"Hey, Baby Girl, we're home." Tim gently woke Tiana, but it was Gibbs that lifted her out of her seat.
"It's okay, McGee, I've got her."
Tiana snuggled down against Gibbs' shoulder, the older man instinctively pressing a kiss to her head as he followed McGee up the porch steps. Once Tim had the door unlocked, Gibbs carried Tia to her bedroom. Tim got her in her sleeper, but she wasn't ready for bed yet.
"Have ta' tell Mommy about my day." She wiggled off the bed and plopped down on the floor, right under the drawing, with her new toys. "Grandmother doesn't understand, she thinks you're in a box, Mommy. But we went and said goodbye like she wanted and then Daddy and Papa took me to see Chuck E. Look what I won."
In the doorway, Tim and Gibbs watched as Tiana chattered at her mother's image, her words coming slower until she was asleep on the floor. Tim scooped her up and carried her to the bed, Gibbs lifting the blankets and helping to tuck her in. As they turned out the light in her bedroom and turned on her night light, Gibbs saw how drained Tim was and steered him toward his own bedroom.
"Go to sleep, McGee. I'll lock up out here." It was a testament as to how exhausted the other man was because he obediently went into his own room. As promised, Gibbs went through and checked the doors and windows. He considered going home, but instead stretched out on the recliner, leaning it back and getting comfortable. After all, the dog was still at the kennel instead of protecting the family, so he was just stepping in to help, one Jethro to another.