Chapter 202: The Chosen Father
|The Chosen Father|
Gibbs sort of grunted in his direction.
Tim pulled up a stool and sat down next to Gibbs.
Gibbs kept working on the crib, rubbing something into the legs. He kept it up for a good twenty minutes before saying, "I'm fine, Tim."
Tim nodded. "I know."
"You and Tony don't need to babysit me." He and Tony hadn't talked about it, but since Gibbs got home one of the two of them had come over for at least a little while after work.
"Know that, too."
Gibbs put his rag down. "Then why is it one of the two of you is here every single night? I'd think you'd both have better things to do than watch me build a crib."
"Don't know why Tony's doing it."
"You both just sit there and watch."
Tim shrugged. "Can I help?"
That took Gibbs by surprise. "Can you help?"
"I've never done any woodworking before, but I'm good enough with my hands that your phone is a lethal weapon."
Gibbs nodded, found another rag, and handed it to Tim. "Hand-rubbed oil finish." He poured some of the oil into the rag, and demonstrated what he was doing. Tim took the rag from him and got to it.
"You going to do this for the whole crib?"
"Just the legs." Abby had decided on a forest themed nursery, one with dragons and unicorns and fairies, and all sorts of magical critters. Gibbs, hearing that, came up with a crib that looked like it belonged in a forest.
The legs of this crib were tree trunks, growing out of the floor. The headboard was a collection of mission style slats joined together in a wide curve at the top. The foot was similar, but with a flat top, because that was the side they'd be putting Kelly in the crib from.
Abby had painted trees on the wide curved piece that made the top of the headboard, and then added unicorns and dragons frolicking about between them. One of the dragons was an Asian-style green one with green eyes, standing near another, traditional European one, in silver, with blue eyes. He thinks the red Asian-style dragon next to the unicorn with the blond mane is supposed to be Jimmy and Breena. He guesses the copper-colored European style one is Tony, but that's based entirely on what he remembers about the personalities of Copper Dragons. The unicorn with her head resting on the green dragon's neck had a black mane and green eyes, and the one near the copper dragon had brown eyes and a dark brown mane. There was an owl who looked suspiciously like he had on spectacles and was wearing a bow tie sitting in one of the trees. A fairy with brown, almost black hair and brown eyes, and beautiful green and gold wings, mostly hidden by the trees, watched all of them.
As family portraits go, he really likes it.
Gibbs pointed to the head piece. "That'll get varnished. Want something to protect Abby's art work."
Tim nodded at that. And for a while the two of them kept working.
He kept one eye on the leg in front of him, rubbing the oil into the wood, matching Gibbs' movements, and the other on Gibbs.
Finally Gibbs said, "I'm really okay. Yeah, it hurts. But it should hurt. I'm not drinking myself unconscious down here."
"I know. That's the same bottle you've had the last two times I was here."
"Did you get a new bottle and redo the little red hash mark Tony put at the bottom of the label?"
"Then it's the same one."
"Are you guys measuring how much I'm drinking?"
"No, he puts those marks on them so he knows which year he gave which bottle to you. He alternates through three different brands, and that way he knows which year which one is up."
Gibbs shakes his head a little, that's just way too involved. He goes back to working on the crib, and Tim adds more oil to his rag.
"Things okay at home?"
"Yeah. She's in a porcupine mood, but that's not why I'm here."
"Why are you here?"
Tim doesn't know how to answer that. He knows why he's here. The huge sticky mess of Jackson died and his own dad is gone and Kelly'll be on the outside in eight weeks and the real work part of being a dad will begin, and he just needs time with a dad. With his dad. And even if Gibbs isn't really his dad, he's the man he's chosen for the role, and he needs this time. What he doesn't know is how to put that into words that won't sound stupid to Gibbs.
So he shrugs again. "You want me to leave?"
"Didn't say that." Gibbs put down his rag and looked at Tim. "What's today's porcupine mood?"
"Everything on Earth, including me, smells bad to her today, and I can't help or change it or do anything about it."
Gibbs shakes his head.
"Yeah. I mowed the grass, hoping that would help, that smells good, right?"
Gibbs winced. "She'll be herself again soon."
"And I am sincerely looking forward to that."
They sat there for a few minutes.
"Sure. Might be part of why I'm here. Whole world, well my whole world, changes soon, and from there it's just going to keep changing."
"You're going to be fine."
"I know that, I really do. But it's still new and scary and different, and…"
"It's good to have you and Palmer around. Have family who's on the other side of this."
"You do. For whatever it's worth, I'm here."
"It's worth a lot to me."
They kept working for a few more minutes, working the oil into the wood, creating something that would be beautiful, durable, and non-toxic should a small person decide to chew on it.
Tim looks up from rubbing the oil into the crib leg.
"My dad and I didn't talk for almost thirty years. I wish I had had that time now. The last eight years… they weren't enough."
Tim nods. He can see where Gibbs wants to go with this. "Why'd you two fall out?"
"Lot of reasons. My mom died… She was sick, with cancer, and she intentionally ODed on her pain medication, and I blamed him for that. There was nothing he could have done, but I was fourteen and angry at everything, and he was around and easy to be pissed at, because I couldn't bear to be pissed at her. I wanted to join the Marines. He got drafted into Korea and hated the military. And after Viet Nam, he didn't trust it, either. Things got better when I married Shannon, but fell apart again after she died. He brought a date to their funeral and…" Gibbs shook his head. The look he sends Tim clearly says, okay, your turn.
"He ever call you a worthless fag?"
Gibbs looks mildly surprised at that. "Nope."
"Tell you you were a massive fucking disappointment when you got one answer wrong on a spelling test? And how if you kept fucking up like that you'd never become anything?"
"No. They got hung up on the refrigerator."
"Only the A+ with all the extra credit got on the fridge at our house. He tell you you were wasting your life?"
"Told me the Marines would. They'd ship me off to die somewhere."
"Yeah, not quite the same thing. My dad was trying to get me to let the Navy ship me off to get killed somewhere. I watched MASH as a kid, and wanted to be a surgeon, but it turns out I really don't like blood, so that's how I got to biomedical engineering. I was going to build better artificial hearts and lungs and stuff like that. Save lives. Johns Hopkins had the best program in the country for that, and I got a full scholarship for it. That was his definition of me wasting my life."
Gibbs thinks about that for a moment, and Tim can see he's trying to fit this into what he knows about John McGee, and what he knows about Tim and John McGee, and what he knows about both being a father and being a son who is mourning his father.
"It's been a really long time, Tim, things change."
Tim shakes his head. "This doesn't. He's not in my life. He's not going to be in my life. He's not ever seeing my kids."
Gibbs looks a little frustrated at this, and Tim can see he doesn't have enough information to really get it. He's probably imagining something like Tony and Sr., a relationship that's been damaged by lots of disappointment but repairable.
"If he had hit me, would you still be trying to get me to rebuild that bridge?"
"No." And Gibbs starts to really get it. His eyes narrow a little and his hands tighten on the rag he's holding. Classic Gibbs anger signs. "Did he?"
"Leaving bruises would have looked bad. Would have hurt his chances of making Admiral. So he used words instead."
Gibbs nods. Tim can see he's keeping whatever is going on in his head in check, trying to keep Tim talking.
"I know sailors cuss, but… It was over the line. You can be pissed at someone without threatening to tie them down, mutilate them, and have an entire battleship rape them."
Gibbs eyes go wide, and his fist clenches so hard around the rag he's holding his knuckles go white.
"Wanna hear a really not funny story?" Tim feels himself detach from this. He's talking about it, but treating it like a story he read or a dream. He thinks part of that is that if he has a big emotional fit about it, Gibbs will go ape shit and probably kill John, and that's just not going to be good for anyone. But at the same time, he wants Gibbs to get it. He wants his chosen father to understand who his biological father is.
Gibbs nods once more, looking really disturbed and very, very angry.
"So, I'm eleven and he calls me a faggot because I was… I don't remember. Something he thought was too girly. Probably playing D&D or writing or had an allergy attack or something. Turned out he liked that one, called me it a whole lot over the years whenever I wasn't living up to his standards of proper maleness, which was pretty much all the time. Anyway, I didn't know what a faggot was. Probably another sign of not being properly male. Men are born knowing how to cuss, right? So I looked it up, because, that's just me. And the dictionary we had didn't have what it meant, not really. It had the 'real' meaning, a bundle of kindling, and that just made no sense at all to me. He'd been pissed, but calling me a collection of sticks was just… dumb, and no matter what else is true about him, he isn't dumb. I thought I might have heard wrong, so I read the definitions of all the words near it, and any other. alternate spelling I could think of, but nothing made any sense.
"I was at my grandparents the next weekend, so I asked Pop what it meant because it had to mean something other than that. And he looked really concerned, asked where I had heard it, and I could see the look on his face, so I lied and told him one of the kids at school had said it. And he got really serious and told me there were some guys who had sex with other guys…" Tim stops there, backs up a bit. "I loved my grandfather dearly, and he was a really good guy, but he was born in the twenties and very Catholic, and died in '96… so yeah, not big on gay rights… He told me how that was a really, really, really bad thing, an abomination, and those guys went straight to Hell for all eternity, and that if I ever heard a kid say that again I needed to tell the teacher because that was a very rude word and that kid needed his mouth washed out with soap until he learned some manners.
"And then it made a whole lot of sense."
Gibbs doesn't smile. There's no humor on his face, and Tim gets the sense that he's doing everything he can to control his own emotions because he's trying to keep himself at the same level Tim is. So he swallows hard and his voice is very dry when he says, "Yeah, that's really not funny."
"No. It's not. Maybe it's okay to try and toughen up the guys who enlist. I mean, look, I wasn't that sheltered, I knew how Navy guys talk, we lived on base housing, and even then, I knew what gay was, I just didn't know what a faggot was… But I didn't want to be that tough, I don't want to be that tough, and I certainly didn't need to be that tough when I was a kid."
"No. No one needs to be that tough."
"You were a Gunny. You do things like that to the guys under you?"
"Didn't need to. Mike taught me the," and he very lightly tapped the back of Tim's head, "but I already had something pretty similar to that worked out. Most guys only need a light whack to the pride to get them moving in the right direction. The right look and a few words, in front of the other guys, usually got the job done. I worked with the idea that you didn't want to disappoint me, and you really didn't want to disappoint your team. I made them want to make me smile at them. But there were a lot of guys who worked on the idea that they'd be so scary you'd do whatever you could to avoid getting on their bad side. I always liked carrots better than sticks."
Tim flashes him an are you kidding me look. "You were terrifying. The first few years I was constantly afraid you were going to kill me."
Gibbs smiles a little at that. "Made you want to please me, didn't it?"
"Never cussed anyone out. Not to say that some choice words didn't come out, usually in regards to idiot orders or even dumber officers, but not the kind of thing you're talking about." Gibbs is leaving out the fact that, well, he doesn't talk, and he didn't talk much as a Gunny either. He's also leaving out the three cases where he did have to literally beat guys into doing the right thing. But there's a huge difference between dealing with a eighteen-year-old-know-it-all who is going to get his team killed if he doesn't shape up and your eleven-year-old son who wants to pretend to be a knight or cleric or whatever.
"Yeah, not the same thing at all. Like I said, I grew up on base housing, I remember Army/Navy games where Navy lost. You could hear the yelling through the whole neighborhood. We had this next-door neighbor when we were in Alameda… after a few weeks my mom wouldn't let me play outside when he was working on his car. I don't think I ever heard him say a sentence that didn't have the word fuck in it."
Gibbs nods. "I remember those guys. Served with a bunch of them. Functional vocabulary of about 200 words and twenty of them were different versions of fuck."
"Yeah." Tim lays down his rag and turns to face Gibbs. "Jethro, I've got you and Jimmy and Tony and Ducky. I've got men who love and respect me for who I am and who I want to be. I don't need him. I don't want him. I don't miss him. I don't wish he was here. I don't even wish things were different, anymore. He's just… gone, and I think that's a good thing. I've got my family, and he's got no part in it."