The Thunderstorm Runaway (2003)
He was standing in the living room, watching the rain come down outside his front window with a mug of steaming coffee in hand - and he’d just seen movement out on the street.
Sighing, the man set his mug down. He didn’t bother grabbing an umbrella on his way out the front door, or even a coat for that matter. It was more important to get to the sidewalk as fast as possible.
Thankfully, the person he’d seen wasn’t moving all that quickly, and was only just to the point of passing in front of his house when Gibbs fell into step beside him. The kid glanced up, briefly, before ducking his head to stare resolutely at the sidewalk, streams of water pouring down the front of his saturated hood.
“I’d say it’s a nice day for a walk,” Gibbs started in a light tone, “But somehow I don’t think that’s why you’re out here.” He very carefully did not look at the fit-to-burst backpack the boy was wearing, or the corner of what looked to be a map sticking out of his pocket.
“I’m not goin’ back.” The kid’s voice was quiet, mumbling, but Gibbs wasn’t put off - he’d needed to strain his ears for softer sounds in worse conditions plenty of times.
It took a while, the same amount of time needed for them to walk past another three houses, but eventually the kid lifted his head again in order to peer up at Gibbs. “Aren’t you gonna ask me why?”
The man shrugged. “I figure, no one’s going to be out in this kind of weather without a very good reason, so you probably have one. And I’m not the type to pry into another’s business without a good reason of my own.” Rather than drop his head again, the boy continued to study him, lower lip being gnawed on in a gesture of worry.
“...But you’re getting wet.” They were both, admittedly, more than soaked by that point in time.
“I’ve been wet before, and I’ll be wet again. But at least I’m out here on hand in case a big wave comes roaring down the street and tries to carry you off.”
The kid giggled. “That’s not gonna happen!”
“How do you know? This is an awful lot of rain, after all. Almost as much as the time my ship got caught in the outer edge of a hurricane - and those waves were huge.”
“You’ve been on the ocean?”
With the kid’s full attention on him, Gibbs looked down at the eager face and smirked. “I was in the United States Marine Corps, of course I’ve been on the ocean.”
With that, a bombardment of questions started up, as the boy asked him about everything from what missions he’d been on to all the kinds of weather he’d seen and what kinds of ships he’d sailed on. Gibbs answered them all patiently, as he not so subtly turned them to cross the street at the next intersection, and got the pair headed back in the direction they’d come. The kid never even noticed when they crossed it again, walked across a lawn and through a front door. It wasn’t until Gibbs dropped a towel on top of his head that the boy realized they were indoors.
“Where are we?” He demanded.
“My place,” Gibbs replied, sticking his retrieved coffee mug into the microwave. “You want me to heat something up for you too?”
“Um, sure, I guess.”
“Okay. You can set your stuff in the front hall, and there’s a bathroom right around that corner where you can dry off. I’ll get out some dry clothes for you to change into.” The kid, obviously reluctant, went ahead and did as Gibbs said anyway. As soon as the man swapped out his reheated coffee for a mug of milk, he headed for the rear room of the house, a place he normally did his best to avoid. His guest was small enough that clothes meant for an eight year old girl would be better fitting than those meant for a grown man in his forties.
Kelly had always been an active child, so Gibbs was able to quickly find one of her old outfits meant for playing outside and leave the bedroom again. He figured the light blue and green colors of the t-shirt and shorts would be alright.
After knocking on the bathroom door and setting the clothes down outside it, Gibbs returned to the kitchen. Milk sufficiently warmed, he placed it on the table, and was just getting started on making some dinner when his guest appeared in the doorway.
“Mac and cheese with tuna okay?”
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
“I’m Jethro, by the way.”
“Your drink’s on the table, Tony.”
The boy stayed silent as he sat and drank, eyes never leaving Gibbs as the man set about putting together a simple meal. He mixed in a pre-cooked package of tuna with macaroni at the same time he dumped in the cheese, and heated up a bag of frozen broccoli in the microwave as well. Soon enough, two plates were on the table, Gibbs digging into his while Tony mostly just pushed the food around, only taking a few small bites.
“Is this the part when you ask me where my house is so you can take me home?” The kid asked after a while. Gibbs set down his fork before answering.
Tony glanced up at him, confused.
“This is the part when I ask why you ran away, so I can decide whether or not you should go back at all.”
“Oh.” The kid picked at his food some more. “I just- she’s gone, and he’s never there.”
“Mom and Dad. Sh-she died, and now Dad’s never around - he’s always on trips or at parties and he promised he’d stay home today, we were supposed to watch her favorite movie and have a cake and play card games together but he didn’t and I just- I just- I had to go!” The instant tears started spilling from the kid’s eyes, Gibbs was out of his seat and crouched beside Tony’s chair, rubbing the boy’s back with one hand while he murmured that it was going to be okay. Tony sobbed, turning and burying his head in Gibbs’s chest as the man wrapped both arms around him. They stayed like that for a long while, until the remaining food had grown cold and the boy eventually calmed down.
“What was your mom’s favorite movie, Tony?”
“...Dances with Wolves...”
Smiling softly, Gibbs stood with the kid still held against his chest, shifting one arm to support him. “Well, I just so happen to have a copy of that on VHS. Would you still like to watch it?”
It was bad enough her family had to pack up and move away from their home with less than a month’s notice - but it was worse that in the new town’s new school, she was stuck sitting across from the biggest jerk in any fourth grade class on the face of the planet.
When Tony made another face at her while Mr. Jackson’s back was turned, Kate threw an eraser, which beaned him right in the forehead. Unfortunately, another student saw it, and promptly informed their teacher, who actually reprimanded Kate when the whole thing was Tony’s fault.
The ten year old spent the rest of that day in a foul mood.
Some of her annoyance was swapped out for curiosity, though, when that afternoon rolled around and school ended. Most kids waited by the front doors for their parents to arrive, but others, like Kate, lived close by enough in the nearby neighborhood that they could walk home. (She’d only had to put up a token resistance to being picked up by her mother, and managed to weasel out of that particular embarrassment by taking a printed map of the streets with a route between the school and their new house highlighted on it.) The need to head straight home, however, evaporated when she saw Tony walking his bike off the school property, chattering away at the tall man who strode along beside him. Curious, because she remembered hearing the boy tell another of their classmates that morning that his father was out of town, Kate trailed after the pair.
It was to some surprise that she realized they were going along her exact route. When Tony and the man entered the garage of the house directly across the street from her own, Kate had a moment of panic that she would actually be neighbors with the biggest jerk on the face of the planet.
Heading into her own home, the girl skirted around stacks of boxes yet to be unpacked in order to traverse the living room and reach the kitchen. “Mom?”
“Oh, Katie! I hadn’t realized the time - did you have a good first day at your new school, sweetheart?”
“It was okay, I guess,” Kate mumbled, snagging an apple on her way to the table. “Mom? Did we already meet the neighbor who lives across the street?”
“Hm? Oh, no, he’s the only one who hasn’t come by to welcome us yet. But Mr. Mallard told me not to worry about it - the man’s name is Gibbs, I believe he said, Jethro Gibbs, and apparently he’s not terribly social.”
Kate relaxed a bit. Tony’s last name was DiNozzo, so this ‘Gibbs’ definitely wasn’t his father, which meant he wasn’t an immediate neighbor. But, as she munched on her afternoon snack, the girl wondered why her classmate had gone to the man’s house when school let out.
By the time she made her way upstairs to her new bedroom, Caitlin Todd had made up her mind to investigate the matter.
“Okay, that is definitely not a stray cat,” the boy stated. “Can I please go check it out, boss?”
“Take a flashlight with you.”
Grinning, the kid hopped up from the counter where he’d been sitting as Gibbs fixed dinner and ran to the little chest of drawers in the front hall. Flashlight retrieved, he headed for the back door and silently slipped outside. Gibbs counted down from ten in his head, and before he’d reached three there was a loud commotion from his back porch. Turning down the heat on the hamburger and gravy cooking on his stovetop, he slowly turned and stepped towards the back door himself.
The flashlight sat where it had been dropped, perfectly illuminating the pair of kids struggling with one another. Tony had a few strands of long brown hair gripped in his hands, but the girl they belonged to held him in a headlock, their legs kicking around as each attempted to twist out of the situation. Gibbs shook his head, put his fingers to his lips, and let out a short, sharp whistle. Both children froze, looking up at him.
“I might have been wrong about it being a cat,” Tony stated. A moment later he yelped when the girl punched his shoulder.
Gibbs just brought them both back inside, and served out three portions of food rather than two with some leftover. He formally introduced himself to Kate, got to listen to her complain about Tony being a jerk at school that day, and placed himself firmly in the girl’s good graces by getting the boy to agree to be better behaved.
“Are you Tony’s babysitter?” Kate eventually asked, as she was helping with the dishes after they’d all finished eating.
“Does he live here?”
“That’s a ‘sort of’ too!” Tony piped up, grinning.
The girl looked back and forth between the two of them, obviously confused. “Are- are you two family?”
Gibbs sucked in a breath, his eyes unwillingly glancing over at the boy to gauge his reaction to Kate’s question. Tony simply smiled.
“Yeah. Sort of.”
Unsurprisingly, their guest got tired of the vague, repeated answer, and demanded a full story. While Gibbs retrieved some Oreos and three glasses, he listened as Tony explained about their first meeting two years before, and how that gradually led to constant visits and shared adventures. His eyebrows went up as, once the cookies and milk had been set out, Tony insisted on showing Kate the tradition the two shared when it came to eating this particular dessert. The girl watched with obvious bemusement as he went through the steps: breaking an Oreo in half, putting first one and then the other piece in his mouth, then taking a big gulp of milk and letting the lot sit for a moment before munching on the softened cookie. She shot a sideways glance at Gibbs, who smirked and did the exact same thing. Shrugging, Kate followed suit.
When both kids reached the point of yawning more than talking, Gibbs got Tony settled on his bed in the guest room before walking Kate across the street to her house. The woman who opened the door after his knock looked quite surprised, immediately berating her daughter for staying out so late. As soon as Kate had been hustled inside and told to get ready for bed, her mother turned back to the man standing on her front stoop. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met?”
“Gibbs, ma’am. Leroy Jethro Gibbs. And I apologize for not sending her home sooner, but my kid and I were about to sit down to dinner when she arrived and, well, it seemed rude not to have Kate join us.”
“Oh, it’s quite alright! Honestly, this isn’t the first time Caitlin’s gone off for hours at a time - I try to get her brothers and sister to keep an eye on her, but teenagers just don’t want to be bothered, you know?”
Gibbs felt his smile get a bit stiff. “No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Well, I don’t doubt you’ll find out eventually! Anyway, thank you for feeding her, I’m sorry if she was any trouble...”
“No trouble at all, ma’am, I’m happy to have her over any time. I worry sometimes about Tony spending more time with me than kids his own age, and I daresay getting beaten by a girl when wrestling will be good for him.”
Mrs. Todd nodded, beaming. “Well, how can I refuse to allow that to happen?”
Explaining the Situation (2008)
“I had fun tonight, Jethro,” she murmured. “Been awhile since a man took me ice skating.”
“Well, I figured you deserved something special,” he replied, leaning forward into her space. Just before the two could kiss, however, he spoke up. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in coming over for a home-cooked meal tomorrow evening?”
The redhead raised an eyebrow at him. “Well this is a surprise. Three months worth of dates, and this is the first time you’ve asked me to come over - and on Friday at that. Is there any particular reason you’re breaking two habits at once?”
“Ye-ah, I figure it’s about time you meet my boarders.”
That got Jenny to lean back a bit and raise both eyebrows.
“I lost my wife and daughter to a car accident while I was overseas,” Gibbs had told her on their third date. “Spent more than a decade in the corps trying to work past the pain, with no luck. Then, barely a month after I finally got out of the service and came home, this irritating little eight year old came stumbling into my life during a thunderstorm, and hasn’t left me alone since.”
“You really want me to meet them? All six?”
“You deserve to, putting up with my stories about ‘em. And, I figure it’s about time they met you too.”
“Tony was just the first. He’d lost his mom recently, his father using distance to cope, and for some reason I came across to him as the kind of person you hang on to and don’t let go of. Later that year, the Sciuto boy next door starting having health problems, and it was simpler for his deaf parents to ask me to look after their daughter for a few hours rather than drag her along to wait at the hospital.”
“I’ll pick you up at five thirty, then?”
“Yes, that’s fine. Should I make sure to dress any way in particular?”
“Casual. Something you don’t mind getting messed up, because there is a very good chance those kids will manage to cause trouble even on their best behavior.”
“Kate’s family moved in a while later, and somehow being the youngest out of five meant she got overlooked rather than spoiled more often than not. Started up a rivalry with Tony at school that turned into being best friends, which means that when I’d arrive to walk home with him, she started tagging along too. Not long after that, Ducky was awarded custody of his nephew, and that pipsqueak started following Abby everywhere, which included coming right in my front door without so much as a knock. Took me forever to start thinking of him as ‘Jimmy’ and not ‘the Duckling’.”
Gibbs arrived right on time the next evening, and Jenny met him wearing a plain blouse and jeans. He greeted her with a kiss, and then the pair started driving to his house further inside the neighborhood.
“Tim skipped a grade when he was younger, so he’s in the same class as the older two and first visited when he and Tony were partnered for a group project. Kid started coming home with us too after that. His parents were a little unsure about it at first, but his father warmed up after learning I used to be in the Marines. Pretty sure he doesn’t care much for Tim’s smarts, and hopes being around me will help toughen the kid up a bit.”
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Gibbs caught hold of her hand before Jenny could get out of the parked car. “When they put you through the test, remember: break it in half, put both pieces in your mouth, swallow a gulp, then start to chew.”
“Jethro, what in the world are you talking about?”
“You’ll understand when it happens.”
Sighing through her smile, Jenny nonetheless nodded, and then they both got out.
“Ziva is the only one who actually lives with me. When her family moved to the neighborhood last year, her big brother Ari didn’t waste any time starting to cause trouble - played loud music when he drove his car down the street at midnight, hosted wild parties any time his father was away, vandalized a lot of yards even if he didn’t get caught. There was something much worse about him, though...”
“There was one occasion when, if I hadn’t interrupted, I’m pretty sure he was only a couple of minutes away from trying to molest Kate behind the middle school. A week later, she was hit by him in his car while crossing the street to come to my house. Would’ve been killed, if Tony hadn’t seen the bastard coming and yelled for Kate to run. Ari claimed it was an accident, and just about everyone believed him, except for me, the kids... And Ziva.
“That eleven year old girl walked nearly seven miles from her house to the hospital, with a tin of homemade cookies as an apology present. I was there when she arrived, offered to give her a ride home, and while we were in the car she confessed that this wasn’t an unrelated incident. Apparently, in the last three places the Davids have lived, Ari encouraged Ziva to invite girls from school over, and would take them up to his bedroom for an hour or two. Always, within a week, those children were killed in hit and run car accidents.”
“My God, Jethro...”
“I drove Ziva to the police station, where she told the story again and set the wheels in motion for her brother’s arrest and trial. Her father didn’t take it well - as soon as the man got there, he started screaming at Ziva, accusing her of betraying their family. Officers had to restrain him while I picked her up and carried her out of earshot.”
“How did she end up living with you?”
“The social worker assigned to her case was, fortunately, one I’d already met years ago, who’d certified my suitableness as a foster parent.”
“...Because of Tony.”
“Because of Tony. I wanted, in case it was ever decided his father was too negligent to raise a child, to be the person to take him in, and for that I needed to have as much paperwork out of the way ahead of time as possible. For four years, that agent would come over every two months to inspect the house and deem it aboveboard, thinking I was crazy. Maybe I was, just a bit. But the instant she saw me holding Ziva at the police station, it paid off.”
Jenny blinked when they entered the house, because lined up and waiting were six children wearing matching scowls on their faces. Gibbs simply shook his head, and walked around to the back of the line, setting his hand on top of various heads one by one. “These are my boarders: Tony, Kate, Tim, Ziva, Abby, and Jimmy. Kids, this is my girlfriend, Jenny Shepard.”
Abby was the first to speak. “I think you made a mistake, Gibbs. She’s way too pretty for you.”
Both adult struggled to hold back a snicker at that blunt statement.
One by one, as the evening progressed, the kids all warmed to the red-haired woman. Her sincere compliments and warm smiles did a lot, as did the way her quiet wit got Gibbs to chuckle often. Her true test didn’t take place until after they’d all finished dinner, though.
While the older children helped Gibbs gather up dirty dishes, the younger ones split up: Tim got down a bunch of mugs and small cups, Abby retrieved the milk jug from the fridge, and Jimmy re-appeared out of the pantry with a package of oreos in his hands. The three of them laid out the items on the table, and started doling out cookies onto napkins. Jenny went ahead and started pouring. Soon enough, the other kids returned, all six climbing back into their chairs to watch her expectantly, Gibbs glancing over from his place at the sink.
Recalling her boyfriend’s earlier words, Jenny slowly took one of her allotted oreos, following through on the instructions. By the time she’d swallowed the mushy mouthful of cookie and milk, the kids were beaming at her.
“I take it this means I pass?”
Gibbs didn’t even get the chance to turn around before the children swarmed her, laughing and cheering.