Chapter 165: Friday
On Friday he was bored.
Bored, bored, bored.
Tim's rarely bored. Best he can remember, the last time he was bored he was on a stakeout. Best he can remember, the only time he gets bored is on stakeout. So, for about, oh, nine seconds it was a kind of novel sensation, and then it was, well, boring.
Between cases, writing, gaming, TV, and reading, he almost never has time where he's got nothing to do when he's on his own. But, while he's feeling mostly better at this point, really, he's just tired, and sore, and okay, he's still coughing a little, which is why he's sore, his brain's not all back yet.
And he knows it. He sat at his typewriter, spent another hour working on Deep Six, looked at what he had, and it was crap.
He played Call of Duty for ten minutes and got his ass handed to him so fast so many times he knew it was time to bow out.
Minecraft didn't hold his attention for more than twenty minutes. Modding for Minecraft didn't last for more than seven minutes.
He read three pages of his book before he lost interest.
Tim thought about jerking off, but he's not that horny and Abby'll probably be home a little early, so might as well hold off and see if she's interested in helping him "recuperate." Okay, some fun ideas on that front held his attention for a good ten minutes, and he's wondering if they've got anything that looks even vaguely like a nurse's outfit. Abby could probably bring some scrubs home from work. He sends her a text about that, and that ate up a pleasant half hour, but eventually she had to get back to work, leaving him, once again, bored.
What he really wants is another season of Supernatural. He's not with it enough to work or write. But something fun and snarky and sexy would be really good about now, alas he caught up with the live show yesterday, so no new episodes for a few more days.
He flipped around Amazon and Netflix, watched half an episode of The Dresden Files, which he's fairly sure he'd normally like (he liked the books), but it's not keeping his interest, either.
Bored, bored, bored.
Bored Tim thinks. That's just how he is. His brain never really goes quiet. It just hops from one thing to the next, processing away. When he's not bored, he has an easy time staying on one thing for a long time. Bored Tim skips from issue to issue, looking for something to catch his interest.
And it lands on Penny, and the Admiral, and some really nasty words, and the fact that trying to not think about that is probably a good half of why he can't focus on anything. Because, when there's something niggling around in the back of his mind, something he's trying to ignore, his brain will try to bring him back to it, and short circuiting his ability to focus on things is one of the ways it does that.
So, he can let it go, keep bouncing from thing to thing, keep blaming the lack of focus on recovering from the flu, or he actually face what's going on back there in his head.
He makes himself a cup of tea, heads to his office, and sits down in front of his typewriter. He's not sure if he'll write about it or not. Sometimes just thinking is enough. Sometimes he's got to get it on paper.
Maybe paper. He pulls the sheet of Deep Six: Shadow Force (It's probably a good thing there are marketing people to help him come up with titles for these things. He's fairly sure they won't be keeping this one.) out and slides a blank one in, and then stares at it.
The thing is, it never occurred to him that his mom or Penny or his grandparents should have done anything more than they did. Sailors curse, it's just who and what they are. Though, as he thinks about it, not wanting to be a guy who said things like that was a big part of not wanting to be a sailor. He's mildly surprised that he's never made that connection before.
Dads yell at their kids when they don't live up to their expectations. Everyone does that, right? That's part of how you let them know you're serious about being disappointed. Sure, he's got no intention of being that guy himself, but the list of things he's intending to do differently with Kelly is about six miles long, so the fact that's on there isn't a surprise. In fact, the only play out of his father's book that he's intending to use (and really, he's taking it out of Gibbs' playbook) is have high standards.
But there's a line between yelling and degrading. And there's a line between having expectations for your kid's own good and wanting to control every aspect of her life.
There's a line between pushing them to do their best and abuse.
He had friends, acquaintances really, who got slapped around. That was over the line. That was considered base and shameful and doing that was the sign of a man who couldn't control himself. And the Admiral never did that.
But he wouldn't have. Because it would have looked bad. He almost never yelled when there were other people around, because that looked bad, too. Technically, he rarely yelled, at least not in the sense of being angry. Loud and scary, yeah, he did that a lot, but he was usually pretty calm about it. He certainly knew what he was doing, and it was intentional.
The only time Tim thinks the Admiral was actually angry, the only time he fully lost it, was when Tim showed him the Annapolis acceptance, handed it to him, waited for the smile, and it happened, wide, bright, happy smile, really, genuinely pleased for once, one of the few times he can remember his dad smiling at him once he was a teen, and then he took that letter back and ripped it, very carefully and deliberately, into shreds and said, "I'm going to Johns Hopkins."
He replayed the words that came next, ran them through his mind. They're far enough back in his personal history and he's done it often enough now that he can just about do it without feeling like he wants to hit someone, hide, or cry.
Until Ducky said it, the word abuse never entered his mind. He hadn't been lying; no one ever said it, no one ever thought it. But once Ducky said it, it clicked, and obviously that's how Abby has to think about it, otherwise she wouldn't be upset with his mom or grandmother…
He was a kid who wanted his dad to pay attention. He wanted his dad home. He wanted hugs and smiles and petting and soft words and laughter and encouragement and time. But his dad wasn't home, and his Dad only smiled when he got everything perfect, and once he regularly got everything perfect his dad stopped smiling because perfect wasn't enough and he needed to do more and better and do it the way his Dad liked it and only the way he liked it.
He was a teen who fought with his dad. More or less constantly when the Admiral was home, but he wasn't home a lot. By the time he was fourteen, fighting was their default setting. Tim's pretty sure he started a lot of those fights, well, some of them anyway. He definitely started the Annapolis one. But… but even if your fifteen-year-old is pushing all of your buttons as hard as he can, because he's sure he can't get you to pet him, so he'll make you yell instead, you still don't call him fat or ugly or stupid or clumsy, you really don't call him a worthless failure, and you certainly don't call him an weak little faggot who needs to be raped by a whole battleship of sailors to learn some respect for the lessons he's being taught in how to be tough, you just don't.
The idea that stuff like that might actually happen on battleships was also part of why Tim didn't want to be a sailor, and is also something he's just putting together right now. (The fact that he gets seasick when he sees a battleship, usually before he actually sets foot on it, let alone can feel it moving, probably also has something to do with this, and is, yet again, something he's putting together for the first time right now.)
He was a kid who was abused by his dad.
He lets that sit in his mind for a few minutes. There's a sort of… uncomfortable peace to that, and he's not sure what to do with that emotion. It feels right, but he doesn't want it to.
If it was abuse, then the other adults in his life had a duty to protect him.
If it was just two guys butting heads, then they didn't.
How much did they really know? Everyone knew they fought… but he was good at making sure no one really heard what he said…
He pulled out his phone and brought up Penny's number.
"Hey, Penny, do you have time to talk?"
"Officially, I've got office hours right now, but no one's here, and I don't have another lecture for three hours. What's going on?"
"That'll do." He doesn't say anything for a few seconds. "Penny, why do you think my Dad loves me?"
"Timothy…" He can hear concern and confusion in her voice.
"Just lay it out for me, like it's a proof."
"Honey, can you back up a little, give me an idea of why you're asking and what's going on?"
"It's a long story."
"I've got time." He hears her stand up and a door click shut. "Just closed my door. Office hours are now officially booked. You've got me 'til four. Start at the beginning."
So he did. And he didn't pull any punches or censor himself. He told her everything starting with getting sick, every phrase he could remember of what he said to Abby and Ducky, as well as a bunch of others he was pretty sure (really hoped) he didn't say to them, and he told her about hearing them in the first place, and then told her about talking with Ducky, and how he said just because it wasn't physical didn't mean it wasn't abuse. He finished with, "So, why do you think he loves me? What do you see that I don't?"
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She was silent on the other end for a long time, thinking about what he said, probably looking very distressed. He's not going to press her to respond, but he can tell by the way this silence feels that he just dropped a ton of stuff she hadn't known on her, (which was a relief for him) and that right now one of her major paradigms is shifting, as well.
Finally, after what was probably three solid minutes of silence, she says, "First off, Tim, Ducky's right, that's over the line. It's never okay to do that to someone else. He is my son, and I love him, and it's still abuse, and it's still wrong, and…" her voice cracked and she sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly before continuing, "I'm so sorry I didn't do more for you. All I can say is I didn't know it was that bad. I knew you fought, and I knew he was angry, but… not that, but I should have, and I should have gotten you out of there a whole lot sooner."
"Why do you think he loves me, Penny? Past can't change, but… I want some more context."
She took another deep breath and tried to answer calmly. "I was there the first time he held you, Tim. You were six days old when he got home. I remember the way his hands shook and the smile on his face. I was there two months ago when we got together for lunch and he asked to see your wedding pictures. I saw the way he looked at them. I gave him the signed copies of your books that he asked for."
"The books he's told me were 'a massive fucking waste of time and talent.' My 'faggy' little mysteries that I needed to 'stop dicking around with and commit to some real work?'"
"After that case… You told me he loved me. I called him. We talked for like, eight minutes, and it seemed like it was going okay until I mentioned I was a best-selling author and he went ballistic on my books."
"And it went downhill from there on my career. He was yelling about how I needed to commit to one thing and really do it, and then I mentioned the whole chose not to be in charge of Cybercrime thing, you know committing to my team, and well, a minute into that harangue I hung up. Dereliction of duty was the nicest thing he had to say, and I decided I didn't want or need any of the rest of his comments on my life choices."
"Yeah. I'm hearing that a lot these days. So, he likes pictures of me and wants my books on his shelf. He actually read them?"
"I don't know. We don't talk about that."
"Sounds like he wants trophies so he can keep the image of me in his life without having to actually have me in his life."
"Maybe." She doesn't sound convinced about that, but he gets the sense she's not sure about anything in regards to John right now. "One thing I know is that when he doesn't care about something, he can't get angry about it."
"That's not comforting. Anything else?"
"He always asks about you. He asks Sarah for updates, too."
"Still seems like window dressing to me. People know he has two kids, and he wants to be able to give some sort of information on both of them rather than admit that he's not in contact with me. He probably thinks it looks bad if my books aren't on his shelf, especially since Sarah's are. Did he ask for copies of the wedding pictures?"
"He wanted a few, and of the sonogram."
"Let me guess, he's got them up in his office?"
"I think that's true. Last time I was there, your and Sarah's books were on a shelf up behind Nelson and Connor's medals and flags. I don't know if he has the pictures up, but he probably does."
"I called him the night before our wedding, wanting to know why he married mom, what it meant to him, and I mentioned that Abby was pregnant, and all he had to say about it to me was, 'Already?'"
"Look, honey, I'm not going to be the person who says, 'But he really loves you deep down and that makes it okay,' because nothing ever makes this okay. But, it feels like he loves you to me. He seems genuine when he asks about you. He looks interested, and like he wants to know. He appears to really regret the fact that he's never met your wife and is never going to meet your children."
"Damn right he's never meeting my kids! He's not getting within a mile of them! And I don't want you or Sarah giving him pictures of them."
"I don't blame you for that, and I won't give him any again."
"Penny, is this how men who love each other act in your world? Did Grandpa treat him like that?"
"No honey, he didn't."
"Does Ducky treat you like that?"
"No, he doesn't. And Nelson didn't, either."
"I was sick, and Jethro came over, brought me soup, helped me take my pills and kissed my forehead. I'm not a child, and I'm not his, but he still did it."
"Timothy, you are most certainly his. I barely know him, but I know that."
"Did he ever did that for me? I can't remember it."
"You were four, and your mom was pregnant, not too far along, but sick with it, and you had… strep throat I think."
"My mom was pregnant?"
"Tim, she miscarried three times between you and Sarah."
"I didn't know that."
"You were three the first time, four the second, and six the third. She never got past ten weeks. They never got to the point of telling you about it because you were so little. But you were sick, and she was too, and I was staying with you to help out, and I remember him lying on the sofa, letting you nap on him because you were feeling so awful."
Tim tried, really tried, but he couldn't come up with it.
"I don't remember it."
"No. You wouldn't. You were little and sleeping. But he really did used to do things like that. He was home most of the year you were three and a half of four, things like that happened a lot then."
"Back when he still saw me as his little sailor."
"Back when he could love a fantasy of who I was going to be."
Penny sighed. "Yes."
He sat there quietly, looking around his office. "You know, it doesn't hurt nearly as bad as it feels like it should. Mostly I'm just tired, done with this."
"Are you done with it, really?"
"I want to be. Besides Sarah's wedding and your funeral, I'll probably never have to see him again."
"No, you don't."
"So, call it six, maybe eight more hours of my life, and he could always be relied on to behave in public. I don't ever have to do more than make small talk with him again."
"You don't even have to do that if you don't want to."
"I guess not."
"So what happens now?"
"Nap, I think. I'm really tired. I'm feeling a lot better, but still get tired really easily."
"Then go get that nap."
Bed is sounding awfully good, but he's not quite ready to put his phone down, yet. "You going to talk to him?"
"Eventually. He calls every few weeks. You want me to bring this up?"
Tim shrugs, genuinely unsure. But she can't see that. "I really don't know. Nothing changed, you know? The past is still exactly the same; it's just got a new label, and some things are making a bit more sense now." He puzzles that for a bit, and Penny lets him. Eventually he says, "I'm sure he still thinks he was getting me ready for the real world, trying to make me as strong and as good as I could be, at least, I think that was true when I was little. Eventually, by the end, he was smacking me for not being who he wanted me to be. I'm sure he's got miles of justifications. I was soft, and clumsy, and fat, and liked girly things, and got the answer wrong sometimes, and wasn't first string on any team, and—"
"And there was nothing wrong with any of that."
"Not to you. Not to Mom or Gran or Pop."
"Not to anyone who loves you." Penny seems to hear what she's just said. Tim can imagine the expression on her face right now, and he's fairly sure her next conversation with her son will be very interesting.
"Yeah. That's what I thought, Penny. If you want to talk to him about it for you, because he's your son and you're horrified at what he said, and what it says about how he feels about women and gays, have at it, it's fine. But not for me. I'm done with this."
"Okay. Go rest up."
"Thanks. You coming down to visit anytime soon?"
"Spring break is next week, and I'm Ducky's plus one for Tony and Ziva's wedding."
"Should I tell Ziva to expect you for Shabbos next Friday?"
"Yes, I'd like that."
"Good. See you then."