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Anything but Discrete

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While it was not, if at all, that Gibbs felt thoroughly exhausted and done with life after a long day of working a case, his long years in the Marines having given him incredible endurance and mental fortitude, he found, much to his chagrin and inner-resentment, that he just didn’t have the energy, or inclination, to join the rest of his team for a celebratory supper at whatever upscale hipster bistro Abby had strong-armed then into dining at by means of celebrating the end of a very grueling week-long case involving a series of grizzly murders that had been seemingly unsolvable up until the point that Tony just happened, by sheer luck alone, to stumble across their unknown perpetrator fucking skinning her latest victim (somewhat) alive with a goddamn oversized razor blade. And while Gibbs had, mercifully, managed to keep both Tim and Kate from stumbling onto the scene, via a few skillful redirections and gruff orders, he still couldn’t get the horrific image of their deranged perpetrator clutching a nearly-skinless, and still half alive, victim to her chest. Nor could he forget the look of sheer disgust and horror displayed on his SFA’s expressive face as he took in the sight of the painfully young private taking his shuddering last breaths as he bled out on the storage-shed floor. Because as much as he had become accustomed to such sights, and had learned how to block them out, Tony was far too empathetic an individual to possess such a talent and, as such, had spent almost the entire fifteen minute ride back to The Yard fighting off both tears and the urge to vomit – the likes of which Gibbs had charitably worked to conceal from his remaining agents curious personalities. To say that it had been a relief, no matter how small, that Ducky had somehow surreptitiously managed to ferret the young man away into the morgue, without anyone being any the wiser, and successfully push upon the medicine-adverse young man a mild sedative, would have been a very egregious understatement, indeed, as without such actions, Gibbs would have been faced with the very unpleasant, and likewise uncomfortable, task of tending to an overly-emotional Tony all whilst simultaneously trying to lessen Vance’s ire at the both of them for not exactly handling the murderess as gently as the law might like. Because as much as he would always strive to be there for his ‘adopted’ son, doing whatever he could to secure his comfort and happiness, the blunt fact still remained that said man’s theatrics were much better dealt with when given one’s full-attentions. Full attentions and administrations he could not very well give whilst in the midst of getting chewed out, vehemently, by his angry and exasperated employer.

            But, be that as it may, both chastisement and comforting had been completed to the best of their respective giver’s abilities and, as such, they neither of them could feel any amount of significant guilt where regarded the accomplishments of their differing duties. And, if they each of them parted ways with a little more resentment built up in their arsenal for one another, well, that was just par for the course and Gibbs would suffer no lost sleep, or peace of mind, over the thought that his employer might be even angrier with him than was his usual wont. He had far more pressing thoughts with which to occupy his mind, after all, the most important of which being, of course, the question of where he might find a decent enough drink at so late an hour when last calls were surely being made throughout the city.

            It was only when his several passionate, and fevered, attempts to locate a bar still serving alcohol had failed prodigiously, and lent themselves to nothing more than abject frustration and a ridiculous amount of fuel being wasted, that Gibbs finally called a surrender to his admittedly hopeless endeavor and reluctantly shifted his beverage preference from emotion-dulling bourbon to that of weariness-dissolving coffee, figuring, as he did, that if his emotions could not be tempered via alcohol then, at the very least, the heaviness of his eyes could be done away with via the aid of inordinate amounts of caffeine.

            But, while the securing of a decent cup of coffee could just as easily be obtained within the walls of his own home, now that Tony had finally managed to successfully talk him into purchasing a Keurig, it was not towards his own home that Gibbs piloted his truck, but rather away, his uncharacteristic, yet overwhelming, desire not to be alone at the moment, for once, outweighing his unyielding and stubborn need for vast amounts of privacy and personal space. And even though he knew, without a doubt, that one quick call to his child would be more than enough to make certain that he wouldn’t be spending any time in his home alone, as Tony would drop almost anything and everyone to be at his side should the unavoidable need for him to do so arrive, Gibbs had no real desire to place such an emotional burden on his child when said individual had already experienced just as much as he had that hellish day and, as a result, was very likely in need of some alone of time of his own to decompress.

            And, so it was, that Gibbs found himself piloting his aging truck down an unfamiliar, yet posh, section of the city in the feeble light of a pre-dawn sun, in search of the first coffee-house, or café, that seemed promising enough and not in any real danger of offering up substandard coffee in full favor of concentrating more on their ‘ambience’ in a feeble attempt to cater to their more refined guests – the likes of whom couldn’t very well care less what color their walls were so long as their asses were sufficiently kissed and their massive egos stroked to satisfaction by the end of their stay.

            As it soon turned out, it was a little establishment called Discrete that caught his eye, the small Victorian-home turned coffee shop both pleasing to the eye as well as easy to access via a very well-maintained parking lot with dual entrances. Not only that, but the little homestead even went so far as to boast, with a bright neon sign proudly displayed in the window, that it had full ownership of the best cup of coffee in all the city. And while it was, indeed, doubtful that the signage was one hundred percent accurate, given the unyielding dictates of probability alone, the place, in and of itself, looked both clean and inviting enough for him to award it a cursory try, as it was not as if he couldn’t leave should the coffee prove abhorrent to his tongue or the décor insulting to his vision. After all, there was surely a Dunkin Doughnuts somewhere nearby that he could take refuge in should the need arise.

            It was only when he parked his truck, beneath the shade of a massive weeping willow, and entered the shop, via a remarkably old-fashioned wooden door, that Gibbs started to somewhat regret his decision to give the cozy little abode a try. Because while it did, admittedly, smell amazing within the confines of the store, to the point where his tongue had almost immediately started salivating upon entrance, it felt more than just a little odd for someone so gruff as he to be inside a space decorated so…homey and inviting, as his usual haunts of choice were either depressingly dark and bleak or elsewise corporately-sterile. And while he wasn’t exactly adverse, per se, to being inside such places, he couldn’t quite help but feel as if he was a fish out of water standing inside so neat and tidy a place filled with both well-dressed customers and impeccably-neat employers. But, rather than beat a hasty retreat and thus run the risk of looking even more awkward and out of place, or likewise run the risk of going without any coffee for the next several minutes, Gibbs reluctantly held his ground and shuffled as casually as he could up to the wooden counter.

            “Hello,” The skinny young woman behind the counter chirped, exposed ears filled past their natural capacity with earrings of every kind and color, “What can I get started for you today?”

            Despite having already decided upon what he was going to order, that being his customary black coffee, Gibbs still found that he couldn’t help but become a little overwhelmed as he took in all the endless options a customer could choose from as denoted on the massive chalkboard resting on the wall directly behind the counter – as the choices encompassed everything from cappuccinos and mocha lattes to beverages and flavors Gibbs had never even heard of before.   

            “Just a black coffee.” Gibbs grumbled, practically asleep on his feet. “The largest size you have.”

            Thankfully opting not to give him any shit for such a remarkably uninspired order, as the vast majority of baristas working in the non-corporate locales he had experienced the misfortune of trying had tended to do, the fatless and chipper young worker flashed him a fleeting, yet genuine, smile and asked him what his name was before scribbling said identifier down on a sticker-label in a script so sloppy and illegible, it made Tony’s handwriting practically look like world-class calligraphy.  

            “Would you like any shots of flavor added to your coffee?” The heavily-pierced barista politely interrogated. “Or maybe some cream and sugar?”

            “Just a black coffee.” Gibbs patiently reiterated, pulling his wallet free from his pocket.

            More than just a little startled when the bubbly barista actually reached across the counter to slap, lightly, at his wallet-filled hand, as it had been decades since anyone other than a perp, or ex-wife, had laid their hands on him, Gibbs blinked stupidly and was at a loss for words until the juvenile barista seemed to finally realize her error and went about making amends as quickly, and sufficiently, as possible.

            “The first cup of coffee a customer gets here is always free.” She explained, frowning apologetically.

            Still feeling somewhat annoyed with the way in which his person had just been assaulted, no matter how negligible the damage, or how friendly the assaulter, Gibbs gave the guilty party a soft glare being making a great show of stuffing his wallet back into his pocket without placing so much as a dollar in the tip jar.

            “What makes you so sure they’ll be a second?” Gibbs interrogated, not as unkindly as he might have given her youth.

            Not so much as allowing her smile to falter, one bit, the plucky young girl behind the counter flashed him yet another dazzling smile before making her reply.

            “I have faith in what I sell.” The young girl proclaimed, as proud as any third-generation aristocrat. “That’s why.”

              Finding it harder and harder to remain cross with the fresh-faced barista the longer she held her ground against him without losing any nerve or confidence, as bravery had always been an attribute he admired, Gibbs rolled his eyes good-naturedly and likewise resolved, privately, to leave the young girl a generous tip the very moment she stepped out of vicinity of the tip jar.

            “If you say so.” Gibbs shrugged, never one to refuse a free coffee.

            “I do say so.” The comely barista promptly assured, flashing her teeth in a dazzling smile once more. “So why don’t you go and find yourself a seat? I’ll have your coffee out to you in a minute.”

            Seeing no real sense in putting on an obstinate display by remaining standing at the counter to await the arrival of his beverage, at least not when he was at the point of such exhaustion that simply keeping his eyes opened seemed like a chore, Gibbs nodded curtly at the cheerful woman to give her his thanks before subsequently turning on his heel with the full intentions of taking her earlier advice to heart – the niggling worry that his absurdly simple coffee order might be flubbed, due to her atrocious script, seeming but small in comparison as he took on the Herculean task of locating a seat in the cozy abode that would not only grant him his much-desired privacy, but would likewise also offer up an opportunity to kick up his feet and take some of the pressure off his already badly-blistered heels and toes.            

            Much to his absolute delight, or rather his tempered excitement, it was not very long at all before his search yielded up the promising appearance of a slate-gray chaise lounge, nestled away neatly in one of the corners of the abode’s three parlors. For exceedingly plump and comfortable-looking, as well as situated directly in front of the currently in-use fireplace, the antique piece of furniture promised him all the comfort he was looking for. And though there was, to his great dissatisfaction, three other individuals with whom he would be forced to share such a comfortable space, he had soon comforted himself with the knowledge that the seat he had selected for himself was positioned in just such a way so as not to allow anyone anywhere remotely near him unless they opted to seat themselves upon the floor. An outcome that seemed rather unlikely, if not impossible, given that two out of his three fellow customers appeared to be a duo of passionately knitting octogenarians and the remaining guest in their shared company a redheaded man so violently engrossed in the ginormous book currently taking up the entirety of his lap that it seemed as if Armageddon itself could occur without either his knowledge or attentions. Which was just as well for Gibbs, as he lacked both the skill, and inclination, to make any of the usual small talk that was required of sharing a small space with people.

            And so it was, with great relief, that Gibbs slowly lowered himself down unto the chaise lounge, paying great heed to neither kick any dirt unto the pristine fabric nor jostle his profusely aching knee with any awkward, or unnecessary, manipulations of his legs. Because as much as he had profusely claimed to both Tony and Ducky alike, with the intents of reassuring the former whilst avoiding a lecture from the later, the aggravating fact still remained that his ‘bad’ knee did, in fact, still ache prodigiously after last week’s perpetrator had given it a good mule kick in a cowardly attempt to evade justice. Thankfully, for himself, as well as all those he was to share a confined amount of space with for the next half hour or so, luck seemed to be on his side, for once, as he successfully managed to manipulate himself into a comfortable position without any resultant trauma to his knee, and its accompanying cursing, taking place.

            “There you are.” His lively barista murmured, but moments later as she glided across the wooden floorboards with impressive ease despite the height of her heels and the very full cup of coffee residing within her comically small hand. “I thought for sure you would have taken the pink parlor. It has a prettier view.”

            Briefly wondering what it was about his appearance that made his cheerful server assume, correctly, that he was a man who enjoyed a ‘pretty’ view while enjoying his coffee, and silently considering whether or not such an easily-perceived preference said anything negative or uncomplimentary towards him, Gibbs frowned yet nonetheless accepted his coffee as eagerly as he always did.

            “I’m fine where I am.” Gibbs mumbled, forgetting his earlier resolve to be discrete as he tucked a five-dollar bill into hand. “Why don’t you bring me another one of these in fifteen minutes?”

            Despite the request being quite a presumptuous one, given that he had not yet even sampled the beverage currently warming up his calloused hand, Gibbs was all but confident that his request had been a wise one judging from the smell of the brew alone.

            “Of course.” The skinny girl smiled, awarding him a mock curtsey before taking her leave.

            Replying in kind with one of his smallest smiles, of the variety that Tony relentlessly claimed was more akin to a grimace than anything else, Gibbs sent the happy-go-lucky girl on her way with nothing more than an additional sloppy salute, and an extra five dollars, to show for it. Although, judging by the energized pep in her step, Gibbs would have to wager that both of those things were more than enough to appease his perky waitress.

            “I don’t know how that girl expects to become a lawyer smiling like that all the damn time.” One of the knitting women sniffed, just as soon as the door to the parlor had been closed behind their lively barista. “No judge will ever take a lawyer that happy seriously.”

            Kept from rising to the impassioned defense of their friendly barista by the mouthful of coffee he had just sucked into his mouth, Gibbs could only frown deeply at the wrinkled culprit as he labored to swallow down his beverage without scalding either his mouth or throat.

            “You leave Beth alone, Esther.” The remaining knitter reprimanded, her knobby fingers never once halting as they labored away at the pink scarf being created by their owner. “We can’t all be miserable.”

            “I don’t want her to be miserable, Opal, I want her to be taken seriously.” Esther growled, pursing her thin lips together in a tight line. “How is she ever going to win a case against a male attorney if she’s grinning like a lovesick teenager in the courtroom?”

            Sensing that Opal had already bared as much of her knitting partner’s nonsense and latent sexism as she cared to by that point in time, as the defeated expression showing upon her heavily lined faced was more than just a little indicative of such a fact, Gibbs charitably stepped in on her behalf and promptly assaulted the unsmiling curmudgeon with a bit of sarcastic logic.

            “You know,” He advised, voice dripping with righteous condescension, “I hear most people are able to control their facial muscles when the need arises.”

            Bestowing upon Gibbs a very dangerous, and admittedly frightening, scowl in return for his unsolicited wisdom, of the likes and variety he had not seen since the fateful morning he had decided to draw on his bedroom walls with his mother’s ‘good’ lipstick, Esther waggled a pink knitting needle at him in a threatening manner before turning back to face her lady-friend with a passionate fire blazing away in her hazel eyes.

            “Opal,” She seethed, wrinkled cheeks all aglow with an indignant rage, “Do you remember me asking that man a goddamn thing?”

             Entirely unprepared to be met with such unbridled hostility, let alone such blatant sexism, Gibbs could only sit stupidly as he tried, and failed, to come up with a retort as equally witty as it was scathing in nature. Because advanced age of his adversary aside, there was simply no way in hell that Gibbs would ever willingly take such verbal abuse without returning tit for tat.

            “Oh, don’t pay her any mind.” Opal pleaded, looking markedly embarrassed. “She’s just in a foul mood because it’s Yom Kippur and she can’t eat anything.”

            His staunch irritation with the culprit in question gradually lessoning as it came to light that she was likely just irritable because of self-imposed starvation, and not by fault of some inherent character flaw, Gibbs decreased the intensity of his glower before returning his focus unto the more important task of enjoying the remainder of his complimentary coffee.

            “Nobody hates the Jews more than we hate ourselves.” Esther muttered, clearly still bitter about the edicts of her religious holidays as she turned back, with vigor, to her knitting.

            “And nobody loves you more than I do.” Opal sweetly returned, conveniently forgetting that said knitting partner had been fully prepared to stab an unfamiliar man only moments before.

             Despite still being somewhat bitter about the brusque way in which he had just been spoken to, as he was entirely unaccustomed to taking such verbal abuse, Gibbs couldn’t help but calm down a little after witnessing such a display of friendly affection take place. It was only when he happened to catch a glimpse, from the corner of his eye, of Opal planting a fat old kiss on the lips of her much surlier counterpart that Gibbs realized the egregiously incorrect nature of his assumption and blushed profusely enough to light up a room with his embarrassment. And, so as not to draw any undue focus unto his nonverbal faux-paus, and thus run the risk of having his clear discomfort mistaken for prejudice, Gibbs quickly snatched up an abandoned edition of National Geographic that someone had been careless enough to leave at the foot of the chaise lounge and frantically turned it to the first full-length article he could find.

            Much to his great chagrin, as well as a testament to his perpetual bad luck, said article just so happened to be a rather depressing expose on the lives of child soldiers struggling to survive in a war-torn Somalia. Because while he wasn’t at all ignorant of the fact that such awful things were currently happening in places all over the world, both near and far, he wasn’t exactly so keen on reading about the unfathomably high death-rates of said underaged soldiers after having just watched a young Private bleed to death in his own child’s arms.

            It was only when Gibbs tried, and failed miserably, to locate another article that would better serve to draw his focus away from such genuinely distressing thoughts, that a distraction presented itself via the abrupt, and unsolicited, appearance of the parlor’s avid bookworm within the expansive bubble of his personal space.  For while he was not at all ridiculous enough to expect the promise of total privacy while inside a very public establishment, let alone a coffee shop, of all things, he did expect a certain measure of spatial consideration to be upheld by his fellow guests. Or, at the very least, he expected not to be outright violated by a veritable goddamn stranger planting his ass on the same chaise lounge he had claimed as his own.

            “You look like you could use this.” The invasive stranger explained, attempting to pass a steaming cup of coffee into his hand.

            Still one-hundred percent flabbergasted that anyone who seemingly had full possession of their mental faculties would be so unfathomably clueless as to assume that it was perfectly natural to seat themselves at the side of a complete stranger, with such blatant disregard to the dictates of personal space that their knees were actually touching, Gibbs remained stubbornly reclined, in a sort of stupefied daze, and blurted out the very first thing that came into mind – thoroughly surprising himself by doing so as neither the sentences ‘fuck off’ or ‘get away from me’ were one of the phrases that left his mouth.

            “I don’t drink my coffee black.” Gibbs grumbled, immediately drawing his knees closer to himself and away from the muscular thighs of the interloper.

            Flashing him a smile wide enough to reveal a mouthful of remarkably white teeth, the likes of which were all as straight as soldiers at full attention, the unnamed reading-enthusiast chuckled softly and brought the steaming beverage even nearer to Gibbs in a very clear attempt to coerce him into accepting it.

            “You’ll like this,” The persistent stranger insisted, “Trust me.”

            While Gibbs would have ordinarily never even considered accepting a beverage from a stranger, given that individuals in his line of work tended to accumulate a staggering number of enemies over the years, the likes of whom he wouldn’t put it past to hire someone to poison him, he found himself inexplicably, and without any real sense of rationality, accepting the steaming mug of coffee from the gentleman seated uncomfortably close to him. Because even though his mother’s repeated, and effusive, warnings not to accept anything from a stranger, not even directions, was a mantra he had pretty much lived by his whole entire life, there was just something about his fellow coffee-drinker that put his infallible danger meter in the negative.

            “Go on.” The stranger encouraged, soft green eyes filled with nothing but benevolence.

            Coming to the effortless conclusion that said coffee-peddler wasn’t at all out to kill him, as no murderer-for-hire would be so clumsy about pushing their murder weapon unto their prey, let alone go about such a high-risk task with their face on full display amongst potential witnesses, Gibbs good-naturedly obliged the redheaded man by taking a tiny, and tentative, sip of the coffee that had so eagerly been pushed upon him. And, immediately following that, he took yet another sip, only this time a much more eager taster than a nervous one as the taste of bourbon, smooth and delicious, rolled over his tongue and down his throat.

            “This is delicious.” Gibbs confessed, not bothering to hide the surprise in his voice.

            “I told you so.” His friendly benefactor beamed, green eyes all aglow with a genuine and selfless kindness he often only ever saw in Tim.

            It was only when his social anxiety provoked him into taking an unnecessarily long sip of coffee, in lieu of having to take his unpracticed turn in such small talk, that Gibbs realized he had done but nothing to repay the man for such unsolicited kindness, let alone thanked him. And, wishing to amend such an egregious lack of manners just as quickly as he could, before his mother rose from the grave and slapped him upside the head for such behavior, he quickly reached a hand into his pocket to retrieve his wallet.

            “How much do I owe you for the coffee?”

            Despite looking initially insulted at the mere suggestion that Gibbs might like to contribute his own money towards feeding a caffeine-addiction that was entirely his own, his generous furniture-mate thankfully brushed off such minor irritation with an impressive ease that would have made Tony, himself, jealous.

            “Don’t be ridiculous. It was my treat.” His nameless new conversational partner calmly insisted. “You looked like you really needed it.”

             As hopelessly awkward and useless as he always was when meeting a new person, particularly in a public setting he was unfamiliar with, Gibbs faltered for a suitable response to such a simple observation about the current state of his being and, as such, settled for making use of some self-depreciating humor in the hopes that such a choice would all the sooner place the obligation of speaking on the stranger once more.

            “Are you saying that I look like shit right now?” He blurted, as eloquent as always.

            Appearing quite scandalized at the very idea that a person could speak so negatively about themselves, in a joking fashion or not, his fellow coffee-drinker looked upon him with evident, as well as genuine, concern before lying a friendly, and large, hand down atop of his foot.

            “You look exhausted, that’s all.” His unnamed benefactor proclaimed. “You must have had a long day at work.”

            Going painfully rigid, for but a moment, as the gruesome images of the skinned Private paraded into the very forefront of his exceedingly imaginative mind, Gibbs felt himself faltering for anything even remotely intelligible to say only to be startled back into reality, moments later, as the emotionally-intuitive stranger placed a very unexpected hand on his good knee and gave it a gentle squeeze – the shock of which effectively put all visages of gore outside of his mind as his thoughts became newly preoccupied with the task of whether or not the affectionate fellow sitting next to him was European, given that he harbored such a distinct inclination to be so handsy with another man.

            “It was more like a long week.” Gibbs corrected, idly wondering whether or not his impromptu conversational partner would move his hand.

            Given a quick, yet succinct, answer to his question as his anonymous benefactor gave his knee yet another squeeze, the likes of which sent odd shivers radiating up his leg, Gibbs blinked in surprise yet made no real move to remove the long fingers from his person, figuring that as long as nobody was getting hurt, or scandalized, by the action than there could be no real harm in allowing the hand to remain as it was.

            “What is that you do for a living?” His new acquaintance inquired, his fingers increasingly warm, and soft, on his knee.

             Beginning to feel ridiculously warm all of a sudden, as well as unfathomably nervous, Gibbs inexplicably chose to shrug off the leather jacket he had donned earlier that morning to keep the chill of the autumn air out of his bones, unintentionally revealing, as he did so, the powder blue NCIS shirt he had shrugged into a good 24 hours ago.

            “I’m team lead for the NCIS.” Gibbs divulged, unnecessarily gesturing to the initials emblazoned on his shirt. “You?”        

            Glancing quite lovingly toward the enormous book he had left nestled on the cushions of the recliner he had just so recently vacated, before returning his full focus back unto Gibbs, the markedly tall stranger presently sharing the chaise lounge with him smiled and happily made known his profession with all the pride of a person who absolutely loved their career of choice.

            “I’m a literature professor.”

            Despite realizing, almost immediately, this his resultant facial expression wasn’t exactly as polite as his mother would have liked for it to be, Gibbs found, much to his slight embarrassment, that he couldn’t help but eye his newest of acquaintances with a great amount of incredulity upon hearing his professed career, as said man seemed far too…gruff to work in such an academic field, apparent love of books or not. Although, in a great appraisal of his character, Gibbs did manage to make up for such blatant rudeness with a quick, yet honest, explanation for such doubt.

            “I wouldn’t have pegged you as a professor.” He bashfully confessed, hoping to have not caused any undue offense.

            Because, at the end of the day, whether anyone would believe him or not, Gibbs had meant absolutely no harm by making such a cliché quip, but had rather been trying, exceedingly poorly, to subtly convey the displeasing fact that all the other professors he had ever had the displeasure of seeing out in public had all been more flashily dreed, and far more pompous, that his fellow coffee-drinker. Two things that his newest of conversational partners definitely was not, as said lively redhead looked far more accustomed for the life of a lumberjack than he did for academia what with his full coppery beard and muscular physique.

            “Well, I did use to work for the FBI.” His couch-mate confessed, looking more than just a little uncomfortable to be making such a confession.

            Flooded with a ridiculous amount of disappointment upon learning that his redheaded benefactor had been a part of such a case-stealing organization, as up until that moment he had sensed the potential of a good friendship between themselves, Gibbs felt a frown tugging at the corner of his lips even as he worked to keep his expression neutral.

            “You worked for the FBI?” He repeated, hoping against hope that he had simply misheard.

            “Yes,” His fellow coffee-drinker confirmed, “In the Violent Crimes against Children division.”  

            Thinking that his newest of acquaintances couldn’t possibly be all that bad if he had opted to specialize in so selfless and thankless a field, as opposed to those in that organization who took on more dangerous roles just for the glory, Gibbs forced himself to remain much more openminded than was his usual wont.

            “And you just decided to stop one day?” Gibbs inquired, curious as to how one went from investigative work into something so bland as teaching.

            Thankfully taking his curiosity for what it was, that being a genuine desire for more information, rather than anything negative or condescending, the former FBI specialist sighed deeply but nonetheless imparted the desired explanation without any trace of irritation, or resentment, in his tone.

            “It just got hard seeing some of the things I did day after day.” The talkative redhead elaborated, a markedly grim expression on his face. “And once the red tape started to keep me from being able to do my job, I just couldn’t stomach it anymore.”

            While he had, admittedly, never been one to allow any amount of red tape to keep him from doing what was right, ever, Gibbs was not so foolish as to assume that his unnamed lumberjack had been fortunate enough to experience the same lack of direct supervision and lackadaisical discipline as he had under Vance and, as such, he found he felt far more sympathetic toward his choice to swap career choices so dramatically than he might have otherwise.

            “I know what you mean about the red tape.” Gibbs allowed. “It seems like there’s more and more of it every year.” And, so as to better make known his dissatisfaction with the bureaucracy of it all, he added: “It’s goddamn ridiculous. It was never like that in the Marines.”

            Coppery head immediately perking up at the news that he had once been in the military, in a clear display of excitement that made Gibbs feel both excited and anxious, all at once, the tall bookworm sat up a little straighter with a very smug expression plastered across his face.

            “I thought you might be former military.”

            “Oh?” Gibbs softly exclaimed. “And why is that?”

            Cleary eager to pay him back in kind for his earlier ineloquence, whereupon Gibbs had issued forth the ridiculous insinuation that that his stranger didn’t look like a professor, his perpetually-smiling benefactor effortlessly returned tit-for-tat, only in far less clumsy a fashion than he, himself, could have ever managed.

            “You’ve just got the look for it, that’s all.”

            Feeling a faint, yet oppressive, heat beginning to rise up in the apples of his cheeks, for no discernable reason, whatsoever, Gibbs felt himself reflexively stiffen as he hastily brought his mugful of coffee up to his mouth in a desperate act to buy himself some time with which he could work to recollect himself and work away the sudden anxiety that had just so recently chosen to assault him without cause.

            “I hope that was complimentary.” Gibbs finally managed, surreptitiously wiping his sweating left palm on the fabric of his jeans.

            “Oh, believe me,” The redheaded stranger grinned, giving his knee yet another affectionate squeeze, “It was.”

            Unfortunately possessing absolutely none of the social skills that would help him know what to say in response to such an unassuming compliment, without sounding either ungrateful or proud, Gibbs faltered pathetically in want of an intelligent reply before deciding, pathetically, in a fit of panic, to settle on the most cliché bit of small talk he could think of.

            “What’s that you’re reading over there?” Gibbs blurted, gesticulating quite awkwardly, with his mug, at the giant book the redhead had left behind in a recliner. “It looks heavy.”

            Thankfully opting to take his awkwardness all in stride, without betraying even a hint of annoyance or a trace of discomfort, the impressively tall literature professor smiled and happily divulged the title of the book he had just so recently been reading.

            “A Medieval History.” The large redhead smiled, his admiration of the book quite clear.  

            “Is that one of the books you assign to your classes?” Gibbs questioned, genuinely curious as to what the answer might be.

            “No, this book was purely for my entertainment only.” The expressive professor confirmed. “My academic focus is primarily on classical literature.”

            Relieved that he was, at the very least, smart enough to know that medieval literature was not, in fact, the same as classical literature, for it saved him from all the awkwardness of saying something exceedingly stupid in reply, Gibbs found that he was able to make his response without any trace of the nervousness that usually accosted him while conversing with strangers.

            “I think we have very different ideas on what constitutes fun.” Gibbs remarked, forcing himself to speak with a lighter tone so as not to cause any undue offense.

            “All the better.” His chipper lounge-mate grinned, with no trace at all of sarcasm. “That just means we’ll have all the more to talk about.”

            Once more feeling an inexplicable amount of warmth climbing up into his cheeks, as well as into the pit of his stomach, Gibbs licked at his suddenly dry lips and forced the first words that popped into his head out of his mouth, all but desperate not to look like an idiot in front of the educated man sitting beside him.

            “What did you say your name was?”

            Almost immediately turning a shade of red as deep and vibrant as his hair, the muscular book-enthusiast thoroughly surprised Gibbs by groaning loudly before spitting the name out of his mouth in a manner that suggested it was more akin to poison than the simple syllables it was comprised of.

            “Banquo.”  

            Knowing all too well the fierce embarrassment that an ‘odd’ name could bring upon an individual, having been given an inarguably ‘hillybilly-esque’ name at birth, Gibbs schooled his face into a perfect mask of neutrality and refrained from poking any fun, whatsoever, at the ‘uniqueness’ that had been afflicted upon the redhead by his parents.

            “Like in Macbeth.” Gibbs evenly stated, taking great care to make it seem as if he thought it were perfectly normal for children to be named after Shakespearean characters.

            Hazel eyes brightening up almost instantly upon hearing his reply, Banquo grinned widely and increased the pressure he was currently applying to Gibbs’s kneecap via a giant hand.

            “You’ve read the play?” The excitable redhead badgered, as excited as Tony at a theatre.

             Wishing, for what had to be the first time in his life, that he didn’t have such a fierce and unyielding self-imposed policy about lying, so that he might not disappoint the acquaintance he was already ardently hoping to make into a friend, Gibbs frowned deeply and considered, for but a moment, temporarily suspending his principals before reluctantly deciding, at long last, that he could do no such thing – or at least not in confident enough manner to avoid any awkward follow up questions.

            “I’ve watched the play.” Gibbs sheepishly confessed. “My kid has made me watch all the damn classics.”

            And it was no mere exaggeration that Gibbs was making either, as Tony had all but spent the first few years of their pseudo father-son relationship practically forcing every last movie in his endless collection unto his person.

             “You have a child?” Banquo queried, apparently forgetting all about his love of the classics as he latched unto the newer, and more exciting, topic of their conversation.

              “I…kind of adopted one of my agents as my own.”

            Not only metaphorically, of course, but legally as well. But, rather than opt to launch into a rather lengthy diatribe on how such an unorthodox arrangement came to be, and thus run the risk of chasing Banquo away with the sordid tale of Senior trying to steal power of attorney away from while Tony lay dying of the plague, on the specious grounds that only a legal father should have that right, Gibbs restrained himself and kept mum as he waited for his friend to make his reply.  

            “That’s so sweet.” Banquo replied, no trace at all of any mockery in his voice.

            Entirely unfamiliar with the concept of having that particular word ascribed to himself, at least since Shannon and Kelly had passed away, Gibbs very nearly choked on his most recent sip of coffee and looked like quite the fool as he coughed, and spluttered, in a frenzied attempt to clear the beverage out of his lungs. But, if such an unseemly display bothered Banquo to any discernable degree, he proved himself quite the actor by not showing any evidence of such – and likewise quite the well-mannered individual as he passed over to Gibbs a green handkerchief without needing to be asked.

            “I’m afraid we wondered off-topic for a spell.” Banquo declared, politely looking away as Gibbs used his handkerchief to wipe the expelled coffee from his chin. “I never received your name in turn.”  

            Wishing to quickly restore whatever dignity he still had left, if any, Gibbs softly cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter before answering.

            “I suppose turnabout is fair play.” Gibbs humored. “My name is Leroy – but, I go by Jethro.”      

            Clearly relieved to have met a fellow individual who was every bit as embarrassed by their name as was he, Banquo smiled softly and squeezed Gibbs’s knee for what had to be the sixth or seventh time since gifting him with the coffee.

            “And I go by Henry.”  

            “What,” Gibbs teased, “A Shakespearian name wasn’t good enough for you?”  

            “Sure, it seems fitting now.” Henry chuckled. “But that wasn’t the case in high school.”     

            Having at least had the negligible privilege of attending school with three other boys named Leroy, along with a Jim-Bob and Eustace, Gibbs felt far more sympathy towards Henry’s former plight than he did his own.

            “Your parents most of hated you.” Gibbs conjectured, only half-joking.

            “Benvolio Sinclair is actually a very loving father,” Henry chuckled, “Whose only major fault in life is being a bit eccentric when it comes time to name anything.”

            “Please tell me you don’t have any siblings.” Gibbs groaned.

            “I wish I could.” Henry assured, playfully theatric. “But it would wrong of me to deny the existence of Rosaline and Iago Sinclair.”

            Not at all unfamiliar with the way in which some parents tended to favor their female children, especially if said child was their only daughter, Gibbs felt as if he wouldn’t be at all out of line by drawing focus unto the fact that the elder Sinclair’s were clearly guilty of the same crime.

             “Well, Rosaline is clearly the favorite child in your family.” Gibbs confidently asserted with a small smile. “So the only question I have left is whether your father hated you, or your brother, more.”

             “I don’t mean to sound arrogant,” Henry began, purposely doing everything within his power to affect such conceit, “But I wasn’t named after the antagonist who both slandered and murdered a woman for exposing a revenge plot.”

             “I suppose that settles it.” Gibbs declared. “Your father must hate your brother the most.”  

            “Precisely.” Henry sniffed, purposely priggish. “My father might claim that he was simply appreciative of the complexity of the character, but you and I both know better.”

             Ridiculously touched at the very thought that a complete stranger was including him in some sort of silly inside joke, as he only ever got to be a part of something like that with Tony, Gibbs felt a strange warmth flooding into his stomach even as a smile forced itself unto his face.

            “How did your sister manage to go unscathed during such a naming catastrophe?” Gibbs questioned, wishing to keep their playful banter going.

            “My parents agreed that my mom would be the one to name any daughters.” Henry divulged. “As long as she kept to the Shakespearian theme, of course. But how about you, Jethro, do you have any siblings?”

            Outright refusing to even entertain the idea of divulging his mother’s illness, let alone the terrible havoc it had wrought upon her ability to bring another much-wanted child into the world, as that was a painful topic he had only ever discussed with Tony and his current therapist, Gibbs faltered for but a moment before resorting, yet again, to a little self-depreciating humor to take some of the heat off of himself.

            “I was an only child.” Gibbs truthfully answered. “My mother always said she couldn’t handle having another kid like me.”   

             “She sounds fiery.” Henry accurately ascribed. “I love it.”

            “She was…” Gibbs agreed, a violent pang creeping up into his chest as he thought of her.   

             Because even though it had been several decades since he had watched his ‘uncle’ L.J help his mother with her assisted suicide, by holding the glass of water up to her mouth so that she might better swallow the pills, Gibbs still couldn’t get his father’s accusations of murder out of his head, nor the resultant worry and fear that such slanders might be true that had accosted him ever since they night they had been screamed into his scared, eight-year-old face.

            “Jethro,” Henry tentatively began, seeming to sense his distress, “Have…Have you ever tasted coffee brewed from freshly-grinded beans?”

            Had it been absolutely anyone else to ask him such a seemingly random question after just being informed of the fact that his mother was deceased, a fact that still clearly bothered him, Gibbs might have punched them straight in the nose. However, as it was, it was Henry putting forth such a seemingly out-of-place question, a fact which strangely seemed to make such blatant rudeness tolerable, if not acceptable, in his eyes.

            “Isn’t that what they just served us?” Gibbs interrogated, hoping against hope that their signage proclaiming such hadn’t been untruthful, as he was already really beginning to take a great liking to Discrete.  

            “Well…yes.” Henry allowed. “But I’m talking fresh of the grinder, here.”  

            “That seems like it would be a lot of work.” Gibbs frowned. “I already have a Keurig.”     

            And though said machine was absolutely one of his favorite pieces of newer technology that he had ever been talked into purchasing, he still had no qualms, whatsoever, about cursing its frustrating proclivity to go off a full five minutes before he had programmed it to.

            “Jethro,” Henry began, squeezing his knee yet again, “Once you’ve tasted freshly ground, you’ll never go back to that clunky machine.”

            “Yeah?” Gibbs asked, feeling suddenly nervous all over again. “And just where would I get a coffee like that?”       

            Becoming suddenly, and uncharacteristically, hesitant in response to such a simple question, Henry fiddled with a garnet ring on his thick finger for a spell before finally seeming to summon up the courage to speak.

            “I know we just met, Jethro, but we could head back to place. I have a grinder of my own, you see, and I’m always willing to share my goods with a friend.” Henry explained, very clearly nervous as he put forth the offer. “And my house is only a few blocks away, so it would be a very short walk.”  

             Heartily confused at to why anyone would be so nervous about asking a friend back to their place for coffee, especially so one that very clearly shared his appreciation of the brew, Gibbs frowned yet nonetheless threw the flustered redhead a bone.

            “I brought my truck.” Gibbs informed. “We can just drive.”