2020: Chapter 23


11 March 2020

"Guess what's a pandemic?" Jeff Cunningham frowned at the words as he straightened from a squat, backing the bar up to the rack before he decided he had misheard Kim's question. Pretty easy to do over the music coming from the Peloton bike she was riding on. He was just grateful that she wasn't wearing headphones; in addition to the music and upbeat chatter of the instructors amusing him while he lifted, the last thing Kim needed was anything that would do more damage to her hearing. Honestly, she was probably already passed the point that she needed hearing aids, and he had no idea how NCIS hadn't picked up on that fact yet.

"A pandemic?" he asked to clarify. "It's a disease outbreak that's propagated on multiple continents. Why?"

Kim looked up from her phone and rolled her eyes. "COVID," she clarified, holding up her phone. "WHO declared it a pandemic this morning."

He scoffed as he backed up to the bar to do another set of squats. "Welcome to the conversation, WHO," he said dryly. "Came from Asia, Europe is locked down to try to control their epidemic, we've got community transmission in the States, cases are being reported in Australia and Africa and South America. Hell, I think Antarctica is the only continent without any cases yet. What took them so long to make the declaration?"

"I think that's more your lane than mine," Kim pointed out. "Let's see…" she murmured as she scanned her phone. "The number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, number of affected countries tripled, more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, 4291 deaths… WHO is deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction—"

"What?" Jeff asked sarcastically. "You mean our president stating that it's nothing to worry about isn't enough to make it go away?"

Kim smirked up at him. "But he visited the CDC," she said, her eyes wide with mock seriousness. "He said that the doctors and scientists are really impressed with how much he knows and his natural ability to understand this stuff."

"Fuck out of here with that bullshit," Jeff countered. "I'm surprised he manages to dress himself every morning."

"I'm not convinced he doesn't have people who do that for him."

Jeff snorted as he began removing weights from the bar. "I know all presidents—hell, probably most politicians—are somewhere on the narcissism spectrum, but why did we have to elect a narcissist who is so fucking stupid?" He was getting riled up, which was beyond pointless, seeing as he was preaching to the choir. "I mean, I know we didn't know that we would have a pandemic to contend with when he was elected, but come on!"

"Just a reminder, babe, nobody in this house is included in that 'we' you speak of," Kim pointed out. "Leave some weights on. I have squats to do after this."

"Sure." He removed the bar so he could lower the stands to her height and then returned it. "And you voted for Gary Johnson," he reminded her.

"Yeah. In Washington. Where the electoral college votes always go blue. There was literally zero risk to my vote being a vote for Trump." She rolled her eyes at him. "Nothing we can do about the voters in Bumblefuck, USA at this point. Best we can hope for is that Trump gets COVID and his age and obesity are just what is necessary to tip the scales in the virus' favor."

Jeff fought back a smile at her words. "Careful, Special Agent," he teased. "Don't want your words to be interpreted as a desire for the sitting president to die."

"Says the active duty sailor who just called his commander-in-chief a 'fucking stupid narcissist?'" she shot back. He lost the battle against his grin, earning one in reply. "We are so fucked," she said a beat later. "The one adult they've ever had in the room had a call sign of Chaos and nickname of Mad Dog, and even he couldn't stand how fucking ridiculous this administration is."

Kim liked James Mattis and as far as Jeff could tell, the feeling was mutual; not only was the retired Secretary of Defense a fellow Eastern Washingtonian, but he had always been her commanding general, first of the 1st Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq and then had taken over the whole I Marine Expeditionary Force while they were in Iraq for her second time. She hadn't had any contact with him when they were both in the Corps—there was no way nor reason for him to know every lieutenant or captain under his command—but she had briefed him a few times as an NCIS agent, both when he was the CENTCOM commander and SECDEF, and they had both been speakers at antiterrorism conferences and various random events. She had a standing invitation to meet up with him when she was in Richland, and he had a standing invitation to visit the Tomblin orchard. As far as Jeff knew, neither had taken the other up on the offer. "He's undoubtedly happier back in the Tri-Cities than in DC," Jeff commented.

"That's not hard," Kim scoffed.

Kim took the first shower while Jeff got the kids up and got started on breakfast, putting oatmeal on the stove for him and Sydney and getting Kim's bacon frying. "What do you have on deck today?" she asked when she joined him in the kitchen. She was wearing a dress, which made him frown and try to remember if she said anything about big meetings that day.

"Same thing as every day," he said with a sigh. "Europe in the morning, the cruise ship from hell in the afternoon, after Hawaii wakes up."

She smiled thinly at his use of her nickname for the Roosevelt. "Any news there?"

"Not as of yesterday evening," he said. "They're continue to monitor the sailors who were at the hotel with COVID cases. No symptoms. Yet? No test kits yet, either."

"Makes my epidemic of meth users seem rather tame in comparison," Kim observed as she added hashbrowns to her bacon.

"And what about you?" he asked, gesturing vaguely at her outfit. "What do you have today?"

She shrugged. "Not much, actually. I just saw this dress in the closet and couldn't remember when the last time was that I wore a dress, so I figured, why not?" She grinned up at him, then shrugged again. It was a nice dress. Then again, he thought she looked good in sweaty gym clothes and evening gowns and everything in between. "Weekly meeting with the director this morning and then VTC with trial counsel down at Gitmo about the pending trials."

"Those are still happening?" he asked. Nothing DoD wide had been announced yet, but he had heard murmurs of cancelling TDYs and courses. Everything in Europe was already cancelled and everyone he usually worked with who was stationed over there was on maximal telework; he figured it was just a matter of time before that spread to everyone else. He made a mental note to give Alexa Mirza a call to see what JBLM was doing and see how things were going in Washington, which was getting hit pretty hard. They had over 20 deaths and over 250 diagnosed cases when he checked before leaving the office the day before, but someone at Fred Hutch had done a modeling study and estimated that that number was well over a thousand. He didn't want to believe that, but given the difficulties in getting tests done and the number of deaths they had seen, he was pretty sure that they were on the right track and that it was much closer to 1000 than 250.

"I'm sure that'll be discussed at the VTC," she replied, adding eggs to the pan of bacon, potatoes, and vegetables. "Jack, are you having some of my breakfast? And before you ask, no, we don't have any cereal." She got a grumbling note of assent from the preschooler before turning her attention back to Jeff. "I wouldn't be heart broken if they delay the trials, but I will be annoyed if you end up with two breaks from the kids before I get another one."

"Ha," he replied. As if two weeks of bouncing around Asia wondering if he was going to end up with COVID had been relaxing. Then again, it wasn't as if she had been lounging around in December when she was in Florida and Afghanistan.

"How long is thing going to last?" she asked, gesturing vaguely.

"COVID?" he asked, getting a nod in response. "I don't know. It's a respiratory disease, so it should taper off once we get into summer. Maybe Memorial Day?"

"Great," she said. "Cuba in the summer. My favorite."

"Did you forget that we lived in Cairo for four years?"

"Did you forget how much I complained in the summers?" She rolled her eyes over at him and portioned out her food for her and Jack and headed to the table. "It'll be fine," she said dismissively. "I'll just spend my non-work time at the beach. I won't get to hang out with Mirza, but it's not like we ever have much time to actually hang out when we're both there." She glanced at her watch and frowned. "Shit. I'm running late." She finished her breakfast at speeds that reminded him of the mess hall back in Fallujah. "What time do you think you'll be home tonight?" she asked as she got up from the table.

"I hope in time for dinner," he said with a sigh. He couldn't remember the last weeknight that that had been true. "I'll shoot you a text when I leave the office."

She nodded and gave him a kiss, a travel mug of coffee now in hand. "I'll see you tonight. Love you. Good luck. No burning Teddy to the ground without me."

"I'll bring the matches, you grab the gasoline," he said in agreement. "Love you, too."