a.k.a. The one in which our favourite NCIS team goes camping on Labour Day Weekend and Abby decides the occasion calls for a classic rock playlist. Set in Season 10, following Dearing's capture but before 10x02. Tiva if you squint.
Author's Note: Imperfect fluff, because I am supposed to be writing a Master's thesis. But fluff is fluff, and while I'm not 100% happy with this, may it still bring you joy.
Here, have a puppy. Take a handful of confetti on your way out.
Chapter 1: Square One
Square one my slate is clear
Rest your head on me my dear
It took a world of trouble, took a world of tears
It took a long time to get back here.
~ Tom Petty, Square One
Timothy McGee squints at the pad of paper in front him, pen poised in waiting as he tries to make out the thin-ruled lines he knows are there. Somewhere. With only the weak light of a small solar powered lantern to aid him the task is difficult, to say the least – yet it is one he’s forced himself to tackle with every turn of a new page. Though it might not matter now, he’s self-aware enough to admit that in the morning it will bug him to have disordered sentences scrawled haphazardly throughout an otherwise neatly kept notebook.
Tim sighs for what seems the umpteenth time and tries straining his eyes against the darkness for a few seconds more. The quest is ultimately in vain; night has deepened since he first commandeered this semi-secluded spot near the tents, and there is no longer any trace of sunlight left to help focus his weary gaze. Tim lets out yet another huff and collapses against the back of his folding canvas chair in defeat. He drops the pen into his lap, where it bounces off the notebook and rolls off into the grass.
As Tim feels around for the wayward writing utensil with his foot, music floats over to him from across the campsite. The rest of the group – minus Gibbs, who had announced a while ago that he was going to get more wood - is gathered around a modest bonfire. The sound is turned down low enough that the croaks of bullfrogs and the occasional hooting owl still manage to rise above the melody, but Tim thinks it might be classic rock. Maybe Lynyrd Skynyrd, if his ears don’t deceive him. It’s surprising given Abby was the one to bring the portable iPod dock, but then she’s always loved a good theme.
The girl in question is perched next to Ziva on a strategically placed log that, Tim noticed earlier over a dinner of hot dogs and beer, has been worn smooth over time by the elements and years of use by campers much like them. For once the pair is not a study in obvious contrasts, but a nearly matched set; both wear jeans and long sleeves to ward off the late August evening’s crisp air. The only distinguishing features remaining are in the details: in the rhinestone skull on Abby’s dark sweater that glints in the firelight, and the painfully bright orange of the hoodie in which Ziva swims, Ohio State emblazoned across the chest. The owner of that sweatshirt is currently seated across from the two women on a precarious-looking campstool, grinning as he brandishes a bag of marshmallows and gives the bag a little shake for emphasis.
Tim rolls his eyes and, finally locating his pen, dips down to pick it back up. As his fingers come away from the dew-damp ground the bushes to his right rustle ominously. He spares a thought for whether he should be concerned, then dismisses it and huddles over his notebook once more, leaning close to the dim lantern. The noise is probably just Gibbs returning to camp. If it turns out to be a bear or some other form of wildlife – well, Tony’s the one holding a bag of food. Hopefully it will go for him first while the rest of the team makes its escape.
Tim’s heart starts guilty at the sound of his name being called by the person he’d just planned to sacrifice to a bear attack. “Yeah, Tony?”
“Put away your hipster Moleskine and come roast marshmallows with us.”
“I’m busy, Tony. I originally had plans to write this weekend, remember? Plans you interrupted?” Tim thinks he sees Tony open his mouth to respond, so before he loses his chance he quickly adds the much more pertinent question, which is: “And anyway – do you even know what a hipster is?”
There’s a brief pause, and then Tony states, “That, Timmy, is neither here nor there.” (Which means ‘no’, Tim mentally translates.) “Marshmallows. Are you in?”
“I was serious about writing.” And he still is. Ever since the explosion, well…Tim had vowed to make more time for his well-loved hobby, which had recently been lost in the shuffle of day-to-day life. Accordingly, his initial plan for the long weekend was to spend it holed up with his typewriter.
Turns out fate – or, Tony, more like – had other plans in mind.
On Wednesday Tim and Ziva had been sitting in the bullpen enjoying the early morning quiet when Tony entered like a man on a mission, dropped his backpack onto the top of his desk with a thunk and announced grandly, “Camping.”
Tim had glanced at Ziva, eyebrow raised; she’d glanced back, gaze narrowed in confusion.
“Camping,” she repeated.
“Exactly,” Tony said, pointing at her with a hint of triumph. “It is the Labor Day Weekend, my fair lady, and we are all going camping.”
“Camping,” Ziva said again.
Her face was frozen in an expression of sheer skepticism, which would have been amusing at any other time, except: “’We’?” Tim asked.
“Camping,” Tony reiterated. “And yes, ‘we.’ You, me, Ziva, Abby, the Bossman. Palmer, assuming the Autopsy Gremlin won’t combust in the light of day. I’d say Ducky, but you know – the old ticker…”
Ziva shook her head and held up a hand. Tony’s mouth froze around whatever word he’d been about to add to the stream of energetic babble, and waited for her to speak. Once sure she had his attention, Ziva asked carefully, “But why?”
“Because, my poor, sheltered Israeli-American friend –”
“ - that’s what you do on Labor Day. It’s the last day of summer! Time to get out and enjoy the sunshine, store up that vitamin D for the cold winter ahead. Besides, now that the Dearing situation is finally resolved, it’s the perfect opportunity to have a little fun together.” The tips of Tony’s ears pinked a little as he hastily tacked on, “You know, as a team. Extended family. Extended team family.”
Tim tried to imagine it, thought about having to share a tent with Gibbs and then about his typewriter sitting lonely and unused on his desk, and offered a reluctant, “I don’t know…it’s kind of last minute, isn’t it? Don’t we need a permit or something?”
“And you do know there would be no where to plug in a DVD player, yes?”
Tony offered a sarcastic half-smile in response to Ziva’s jab. “Cute. And yes, I know. I have been camping before, Ms. David. You’re practically looking at a pro.”
“Okay, but the permit?” Tim reiterated. It was a question without any real hope of answer; Tony had now walked around to lean on the front of his desk and stare in good-humoured challenge at Ziva.
“Please. Your father doesn’t exactly seem the type for father-son trips into the wilderness.”
“No, well, you’re certainly right there,” Tony laughed. It was short sound, laced with an emotion difficult to name. “But my mother was.”
The upward quirk that had been playing about Ziva’s lips slowly vanished and her face softened.
Sensing an awkward silence about to descend, Tim cast about for something to say. He’d just landed on asking yet again about the camping permit when Gibbs strolled into the team’s cluster of cubicles.
With barely a pause he said, “If we’re doing this, DiNozzo, you’re in charge of supplies. No way I’m going near the stores this close to a long weekend,” and continued over to his workstation.
Tony blinked once, twice in surprise before rallying. “You got it, Boss!”
Gibbs nodded, setting his coffee cup down to rummage through his desk.
“But, Boss –,” Tim tried.
“No buts, McGee. It’s a good idea.” And then Gibbs had drawn out his NCIS cap, said, “Got a case, get your gear,” and that had been that.
Now, here Tim is, temples starting to ache because he can’t even see stupid lines on a stupid page and ankle beginning to itch from where a bloodthirsty mosquito had ventured up his pant leg.
“Awh, come on McGee!” Abby wheedles. “We barely ever get to just hang out all together like this. You can write any old time.”
Through the shadows, Ziva tosses him a teasing smile. “You could always look at it as brainthundering. Maybe we will do something to inspire you…you do still write about us, do you not?”
“I don’t -,” Tim starts to protest, then subsides because Tony is mouthing ‘brainthundering’ and looking at Ziva with an indescribable amount of fondness. Maybe she has a point. “I don’t write about you,” he says firmly. “But alright.”
Abby claps her hands gleefully, and as Tim rises from his camp chair and puts his notepad down on the seat for safekeeping Ziva turns to wink at Tony. Tim notes with some amusement that the Very Special Agent must not manage to school his face into a different, less sappy expression quickly enough, because when he wanders closer to the bonfire Ziva has her head tilted to one side and is regarding Tony curiously.
Tim takes up a spot on the empty log running perpendicular to the girls’ and spares a moment to enjoy being enveloped in the fire’s warm glow. He hadn’t realized how chilly it was over by the tents. The iPod is now playing Meatloaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” the rich scent of wood smoke fills his nose, and through the tree cover he can see stars dotting the black sky. Despite himself, Tim is suddenly glad to be here.
Tony tears open the plastic bag of marshmallows and says with relish, “Marshmallow time!”
“You still have not told me what exactly we are doing with them,” Ziva says. A tiny breeze sweeps through the small clearing they occupy and she burrows deeper into the orange fabric engulfing her.
“Ziva!” Abby exclaims. “Have you never roasted marshmallows before?”
“I can’t say that I have ever had the opportunity.”
“Well,” Tony says, “prepare to have your world rocked. Of course, first we need sticks, which I guess we’re going to have to go find -” Gibbs materializes next to him with an armload of logs, and several long branches grasped in one hand – “Oh, hey, thanks Boss! That was kind of creepy, by the way.”
“Just take the damn sticks, DiNozzo, before drop something.”
“You got it, Boss.” Tony hops up to grab the sticks from the other man and distributes them amongst the group. He’s visibly surprised to find that there are five. “You roasting marshmallows, Boss?”
Gibbs stops in the middle of placing a fresh log on the fire and says, “Yeah? You got a problem with that?”
“Nope, no problem here.”
To be entirely fair, Tim finds the idea of Gibbs eating fluffy white candy a little incongruous, too. He shares a baffled glance with Tony in a show of solidarity.
After a few minutes of chaos – Gibbs glaring at Tony until he’d relinquished the camp stool and moved to sit next to Tim on the log; the process of passing the bag of marshmallows from person to person and, where the gap between hands was too great, tossing it; convincing Ziva that yes, it is indeed acceptably sanitary to skewer said marshmallow on a piece of wood picked up off the ground – they’re all set and fall into companionable silence.
Meatloaf turns to Tom Petty turns to Steppenwolf, and Tim finds tension releasing in his shoulders that he hadn’t even realized was there. He holds his marshmallow over a small patch of low-burning embers and allows himself to be mesmerized by the flickering sparks.
Eventually Ziva releases an exasperated breath. “This is taking forever,” she says, and moves her stick over an area of higher flames. The marshmallow catches alight within seconds and Tony lets out a loud “Ha!” as she scrambles in a decidedly un-Ziva-like panic to bring it up to her mouth and extinguish the blaze. Abby giggles and Tim chuckles to himself. Even Gibbs cracks a grin.
“Patience is a virtue, Ziver.”
She eyes the blackened crisp resentfully.
“Here,” Tony says, standing to walk the bag over to her. “I’ll take that one, if you want. I like them burnt.” Ziva allows him to remove the gooey mess from the end of her stick and replace it with a new, un-singed marshmallow. He motions for her to scoot closer Abby and plops down next to her.
Tim winces as he hears Tony’s knees crack with the motion, but any sympathy he feels is dispelled immediately upon Tony saying, “Now…” in a tone that clearly indicates he is about to launch into a truly obnoxious soliloquy.
“The trick is,” Tony continues. “Not to place it directly over the flames, because that’s where the fire burns hottest.”
“Really,” Ziva says dryly. “Thank you for explaining that mystery to me.”
“But,” he carries on, “you’ll be waiting forever if you hold it over dead coals like McGoo is doing over there.”
“Hey,” Tim complains. He checks on his marshmallow and – okay, maybe it’s still pretty raw.
“You have to find a spot with the perfect combination of hot embers and the occasional flame, like right here.” Tony moves his already golden marshmallow to the spot he’s indicated. “See?” He barely finishes speaking before it catches fire.
“HA,” comes Ziva’s pointed guffaw.
Tony frowns and watches his marshmallow burn to a cinder.
“I swear, that’s never happened to me before.”
“That is alright Tony,” Ziva says soothingly, patting his knee. “I hear it happens to every man at some point.”
“Ooooh, buuuurn,” Abby says. She thinks about it, then adds, “Literally! Get it? Because your marshmallow caught on fire? And, it’s also –”
“Abs,” Gibbs cuts in. “We got it. Here, have a marshmallow, this one’s done.”
Abby sets her own stick aside – Tim sees that her marshmallow is also looking a little white, still – and comes around to give Gibbs a hug and grab the treat from his hand.
It’s a flawless, toasty brown on all sides.
Tim gives up and moves his marshmallow closer to the centre of their modest bonfire. At least he’ll be in good company if the flames do manage to catch it.
Note: This is totally getting audiofic-ed :) - Nat