Chapter 204: M40A1
It lives in his gun safe. In the back.
It has its own case. It's black, steel, thin to keep it light, but strong and durable. The case is old. He got it in 1988, when the M40A1 became the standard issue sniper rifle for the US Military.
He picked it up and took it downstairs, putting it on the coffee table in front of his sofa, and called Tim.
"Hey, Gibbs. What's up?" Abby's voice on the other end. She sounded pretty perky so hopefully the porcupine mood had vanished.
"Hoping to talk to your husband."
"Okay, I'll put him on."
He hears Abby moving around, the sound of water in the background and then, "It's Gibbs" along with the water shutting off.
"You doing anything right now?"
"Wanna come over?"
"Okay…" he sounds a little uncertain. "Ummm… why?" It's true that Gibbs has actually never asked Tim to come over before, let alone less than three hours after he left in the first place.
"Want to talk to you."
"All right." There's definite confusion in Tim's voice. "You want me to bring Abby?"
"Rather just talk to you."
"Okay. You're making me kind of nervous."
"You're not in trouble."
"Okay. I'll be there in half an hour or so. That work?"
"You want me to bring anything?"
"Okay… See you soon."
Gibbs hangs up, smirking a little at that, a very clear image of the look on Tim's face as he said that. Then he opened the case, leaving his sniper rifle visible.
The talk with Ducky was helpful. The bit about Tim and Ziva's fathers, once Ducky spelled it out for him and he took the time to think about it, very useful.
His fingers trail over the rifle. He and it have a lot of history together.
He hasn't taken it out because he intends to kill John McGee. He's fairly sure that would hurt Tim. But he wants Tim to know, absolutely, in his bones and soul and gut, that there is a man who loves him enough that he would commit murder for him.
Driving to Gibbs' place, Tim's fairly certain that he knows what Gibbs wants to talk about.
Not like you can say to a man like Gibbs, 'Oh, by the way, my dad used to abuse me, but let's pretend it's not a big deal.' Once he made the decision to say it to Gibbs, he knew there'd be more to it than five minutes of conversation in the basement.
Still, he wasn't expecting to walk in, see Gibbs sitting on his sofa, his rifle out in front of him.
Tim sat next to him, eyes wide, looking at the gun. "Haven't seen that since Somalia."
Gibbs shook his head, fingers caressing the stock. "Haven't seen most of it. The stock, sight, and trigger went to Somalia. The barrel's new."
"Okay." Tim flicks his eyes away from the gun to Gibbs.
"Melted the old barrel down a few years ago. Leon… lost… some bullets and a report, but if they're ever found again, they won't match anything test-fired by this rifle."
"I heard you and Abby talking about a book a while back, something about the axe of my father's father, is it still the same axe if the blade or the handle's been replaced?"
Tim nods, he remembers that, though it was years ago.
"And if I remember right, the answer was yes. It was the spirit of the thing, not necessarily the parts that made it."
Tim nods at that, too.
Gibbs strokes the barrel. "This is the rifle I used to kill the man that hurt my girls. I looked through this sight, watched him drive up, and put a bullet through him. Say the word, and I will do the same thing to the man who hurt you."
A rush of… something, Tim's not sure if it's rage, fear, or joy flashes through him. He finds himself thinking about the fact that it's hot and tingly; that the physical sensation of whatever this is is so strong he cannot name the emotion. But he can see that Gibbs is waiting for him to say something, but nothing is coming to mind, there's just a whirling blank of whatever this feeling is.
Finally he says, "Jethro?"
The look on Gibbs face is somehow loving and terrifying. The love is aimed at Tim, and terror at the imagined version of his father. "A long time ago, I told you you were mine, and I did a piss poor job of living up to that. But not anymore. You're mine, Tim, and I take care of what's mine, and if you want, I will end him."
Gibbs waits for him, lets the thoughts and feelings skitter around, lets him collect his words which vanished with that flash of feeling.
Mostly there's just the blank of it. A void of… something… whatever it is he can't, maybe won't, process it. But it takes shape eventually, forms coming clearer in the void. Since Tim's been an adult, he's had no desire to do violence to his father. That's the beginning and end of it. He's a man capable of using violence as a tool, but it holds no joy for him. If he ever does something to or about his father, he has to own it, his tool of choice: his mind, his words, something like that.
So eventually he says, "No. I mean, it's tempting. It's really tempting. And I'd be lying if it didn't want to see him look scared or in pain or…" and all of that is true, too.
"But he's my sister's dad, too. And she loves him. They've always gotten along. He's my grandmother's son, and she loves him, too. Though she's very much not happy with him right now. And I've seen enough people bury their parents and children… Hell, just helped you with your dad, and he was old and went in peace and… And I don't want to watch two of the women I love best go through that." And that is true, too. Anything he does or has done about his father will reverberate through other people he holds dear.
"And like with Hernandez and your girls, nothing will change. Nothing will get better."
"You'll have justice."
"I'm still alive, Jethro. And with the exception of when he was teaching me how to fight, he never, ever hit me, and even then it wasn't out of line."
"I don't need it. Not like that. And I don't want to risk you going to jail. You came close enough with Hernandez. I don't want them carting you off to prison when you're seventy and some new NCIS team gets called in to check out our cold cases.
"But mostly… If something ever happens to him… I want to be the one who does it. And, I'm not saying I ever will. I think it's probably better for all of us if I don't ever do anything like that, but… If it's going to happen, it's going to be me."
Gibbs closes up the rifle case. The anger in his eyes is, not gone, but held under better control, and Tim knows it's not aimed at him for turning Gibbs down on this. Next to, or through the anger is respect. "If you ever change your mind, or if you ever want any help with anything you might want to do for yourself…"
Gibbs looks him straight in the eye. "I am sorry I didn't pay enough attention to see what was going on with you and John."
He raises an eyebrow at Gibbs, and sees Gibbs understand that it's in relation to being apologized to.
"Most of the time, you apologize to cover your own ass or try to minimize the impact of something you've done. You fuck up; you need to own up to it, none of this sorry crap. Usually, I'm sorry is about pretending you didn't understand you were about to fuck up, or trying to deny the person who you fucked up his right to be angry about it. This is none of that. I am genuinely sorry that I did not actually see who you were. I am sorry I didn't look hard enough to see it. That was my job, and I didn't do it."
Tim shrugs. "You weren't exactly in California in 1987 to '95, and since then I haven't been in the same room with him for more than two hours. There was nothing for you to see."
"There was you. You get along with everyone. You get along with people who make a habit of tormenting you. Ziva and Tony super-glued your face to your desk, I let them do it, and you forgave all three of us. But you don't talk to your dad. Whatever was between you was past your ability to forgive. And you tell me he never hit you, fine. But whatever he said to you hurt you worse than years of being hazed by your partners.
"You never go home. You never talk about your parents. You almost never talk about your childhood. Ziva talks about her childhood more than you do. I talk about my childhood more than you do. The only reason I knew you weren't an orphan was because everyone knows who John McGee is. The only reason I knew you had a sister was because she was in that case, and that's the only reason we knew you got those books published. You keep your cards so close to the vest that people don't even notice you're in the game.
"That should have been a red flag to anyone paying attention. No one is that private. And I really should have known because I spent a decade not talking about anything other than my present and my work. I know the signs. I know what hiding something looks like because I did it. I let myself believe you were shy—"
"I am shy."
Gibbs flashes him a cut the bull look. "You're not that shy. And you certainly aren't that shy after years of knowing someone."
"And that's not why you never told anyone but Abby anything about you."
Tim shrugs. "Didn't actually tell her about it, either. Not all of it. She knew about the fighting, but I never got into specifics. She knew details because apparently I started having nightmares after that case and talking in my sleep. And then I was sick, and out of my head, and when they sponged me down to get me cooled off I let fly with a bunch of the Admiral's greatest hits, and… Well, it was let Ducky think I talk to Abby that way, or explain why I've got words and phrases like those in my head. And I didn't want him thinking I'd talk to her like that. I don't mind if everyone knows we're kinky, I mean, that's pretty obvious, but… not that. I don't degrade her. Never."
"So, why don't you talk about it? Not, to the wide world, but to us."
Tim shrugs and shakes his head. "I've got to think about it, remember it, to talk about it. I'm happier not doing that. Before this, years could go by without it crossing my mind. I like my life now. I love it. And I'd rather be living it, now, than stuck in the past. Maybe I took enough psych/read enough to know the right thing to say, but Wolf keeps thinking I'm okay, and I'd rather just be okay."
"How okay are you if you're having nightmares about it?"
"More than okay enough. I don't remember them. The ones about the freezer I do remember, and if I'm going to go up against my past, that'll be the chunk I tackle first, because that's the part that still wakes me up in a cold sweat."
"Still dream about that sometimes, too."
"I know Tony does. I'm fairly sure Ziva does, also."
Gibbs nods. You can't do this job and not end up broken on some level. Every cop he's ever known who was any good at it had at least a few cases that haunted him.
Tim sits up, touches the rifle case, fingers idly tracing over it. "I meant what I said earlier. I have the family I want. When I was younger, Penny used to encourage me to develop attachments with other men. She knew my dad and I didn't work, and after my grandfather died, she thought it wasn't good for me to only have intimate relationships with women. Not that having close female friends/family was bad, but that I needed some men in my life, too. And she was right. Though I'd say neither of us knew why I spent so long avoiding a truly intimate relationship with a guy. But I'm not doing that anymore, so I have them, now. And I'm glad I've got you and Tony and Jimmy and Ducky. It was something I needed. I've been feeling a lot more… I don't know… whole… or real maybe, these last two years, last year especially, and I think it's just going to keep getting better from here."
Gibbs nods, smiles, eyes warm and fond, and rests his hand on Tim's shoulder. The last time he said this to a guy, it was his Dad, and it was years ago, and now he wishes he had done it more often, but that ship's sailed, but this one hasn't.
"I love you, Tim."
"Wanted to make sure you actually got to hear me say it every now and again."
"Thanks. That's… ummm…" And that's when Tim lost it and started crying. It's not the sentiment. He knows Gibbs loves him. Seen it every day for years now, and even if he hadn't, the rifle and the promise attached to it would be a pretty good hint.
No, it was the fact that Gibbs said it. He opened his mouth and gave it voice. He put it in the form Tim responds best to, and offered the gift of it to him.
That's what did it.
Gibbs scooted up closer to him, wrapped his arm around his shoulders, and just held him while he cried.