Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 212

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 212: Gibbs and Penny

Retribution and Determination
Privately, in his own internal monologues, Ducky considers Jethro to be a force of nature. He's retribution and determination made flesh and set on the Earth to go, single-mindedly, after anything that takes his fancy.

Likewise, Penny is a force to be reckoned with, as well. Intellect and determination set loose to break molds and overcome expectations.

What precisely it says about Ducky that he prefers the company of people who are almost larger than life and capable of near super-human feats of determination is something he has not spent much time mulling over.

What he does know, is he's driving a car with Mohammed and the Mountain, and he can feel by the flavor of the silence that it's time for the confrontation, and he's completely unsure of how this is going to go.

Determination and Intellect
But he's also sure that when you've got two massive, rock hard cliffs of personalities about to rub up against each other, it's an awfully good idea not to get between them if you don't want to be ground into a pulp.

So, he says, in a somewhat conversational tone, mostly as a reminder that there are people who would really appreciate it if both Penny and Jethro were to get along well. "Timothy and Abigail love both of you, and the three of us are, for all practical purposes, the only grandparents Kelly has."

And though he added nothing else, nor did he preface that comment with anything to give it any context, neither Penny nor Jethro seemed to have any issue figuring out why he said it.

Penny glanced at Ducky, nodded to him, then half turned in her seat so she could see Jethro more easily. "Have at it, Jethro, I know you're angry."

Jethro's quiet. He doesn't want to talk. He hates talking about stuff like this. He just wants to… glower, that's probably the right word.

Because when it comes down to it, Ducky's right. He can see it. Tim and Abby don't blame Penny. So as angry as he is, and as much as he'd like to kick someone, she's not the person who needs to be kicked.

And yeah, he doesn't love getting slapped upside the head, but it was similar enough to Mike that it got the part of his brain that actually thinks back online and he could see it was exactly what he needed.

Tough love is his job, and he blew it.

He's the guy who's supposed to be the rock. He's the one who Tim turns to when he needs someone calm and in charge and able to keep the fear away long enough to function, and he lost it.

So, yeah, he's angry. At himself for panicking. At Penny for not protecting Tim better. At John for being John. At God, because damnit hasn't he gone through enough danger with his girls? He's got to live with Ziva in the line of fire every single day. Couldn't just this one thing be easy and simple? Is it too much to ask to have at least one of his girls safe and secure and her baby healthy? Really, God is that too fucking much? And all of it together in less than a week, it's just too damn much.

"You didn't protect him," he says it quietly, because in the car, while Ducky's driving isn't the place to yell.

"I know." And that was all Penny said.

"You know? That's it?" What's worse than kicking something when it's not what you want to kick? Seeing it just roll over and lay there, no fight at all.

"What else is there? I failed him. His mom failed him. His dad…" she doesn't finish that thought. "He was one of the sweetest kids I've ever met, and my favorite of the grandkids, the one I was most involved with, and I still failed him. So, you going to yell at me about it? Tell me I should have paid more attention? Gotten him out of there sooner? Done a better job raising John? Go ahead, not like I haven't said it to myself already. Might make both of us feel better."

Gibbs closes his eyes and curses very quietly. Because, no it won't make either of them feel better, not really, because she's not the target he wants or needs for this. So instead of yelling he asks, "When did it start?"

"I think when he was six."

"Six? How do you not notice something like that happening to a six-year-old?"

"Because I lived three thousand miles away and it turns out 'Dad took me sailing, and I hate it!' said during the five minutes we'd talk on the phone each week when he was little actually meant 'Dad dragged me onto a boat for ten hours, I spent the whole time throwing up, and then he did it again every Saturday for the next month trying to get me to like sailing.' No one said anything like that until February, and then it was thirty-one years too late."

"Did you ever live near them?"

"Yes. The year Tim was born, when he was three and four, and the year he was eight. They were out of Annapolis those years. They spent a lot of time out of California, moving from Alameda to San Fran and back again, two years out of Pearl, and a year out of Brisbane when Tim was a baby and John was working on a joint project with the Australian Navy. And he lived with me the summer before college began, but for most of his life we'd visit during winter and summer holidays, talk on the phone, write letters, and email once that became an option.

"And as you know, if something unpleasant is going on in his life, he doesn't talk about it. And that's not something he picked up recently. That's been true since he was little. And maybe it's because no one ever let him complain and people like me would say things like, 'Honey, it's okay, give sailing another try, I'm sure you'll like it if you try again,' not knowing what was really going on."

Gibbs grits his teeth, because that's right and true, and he knows he did it with Kelly when he thought she was being overly sensitive about something, and still he just wants to hit something.

"When did they stop talking?"

"First time was after Tim turned down Annapolis."

"Tim got into Annapolis?" Gibbs tries to wrap his mind around that. Not that he wasn't smart enough for it, and he's sure Tim had the grades, but… Tim's not a sailor, he's not a solider, and he can't think of anyone who would have been more miserable dropped into the Naval Academy than Tim would have been.

"Yeah. Would have been the fourth McGee in a row there. His spot had pretty much been reserved since the day he was born. All he had to do was get the grades, and he was in. He was something like twelfth in his class of fifteen hundred. So, he had the grades.

"John made him apply. I know he didn't want to go. I know he intentionally bombed the interview and wrote a terrible essay for the application. But a 3.97 GPA, 1560 SATs, and three previous generations of McGees meant that he was in.

"He'd also applied to half a dozen other schools with great bio tech/medical engineering programs. Got into all of them. I'd been a professor at John Hopkins so he got a good deal there, too. Got a good enough deal that John's if-you-don't-do-Annapolis-we-won't-pay-for-your-schooling,-and-we've-got-enough-money-you-won't-qualify-for-financial-aid wasn't able to scare him into submission.

"So he got in, and then apparently he showed John his acceptance letter and ripped it up right in front of him. And once the fight was over, they didn't speak again until Tim's grandfather died, two years later.

"The second time was right after he got on your team. He was really excited about it. Less than a year at NCIS and a place on the best team. I guess that's when John had to come to terms with the fact that Tim really wasn't ever going to enlist. I think John was gearing up for a huge fight, but Tim just hung up on him and didn't call back for seven years."

"And that call didn't go well."


"But John and Sarah are fine?" Which is something Gibbs doesn't get at all. Tim mentioned it, but he doesn't understand how that could be true.

"Yeah. He never had any expectations for Sarah. Never expected Sarah in the first place. Tori miscarried several times after Tim, and they'd hit the point where they were never expecting to have another child. And she's just as smart as he is, maybe not at as sweet, but smart, sassy, funny. She's a lovely girl… but you've met her, right?"

"Few times."

"John's enough of a chauvinist that the idea that the fourth McGee at Annapolis could be a girl never crossed his mind. Sarah's not tied to his idea family pride or carrying on the name or however he's got that… crap… labeled, so for her whole life, she's gotten to be brilliant and pretty and the apple of her daddy's eye, because anything she's done has been more than good enough for him."

"And nothing Tim did was?"

"No. That's not true. Though I'm sure that's how it felt to Tim. Anything that distracted away from the goal of being the third Admiral McGee was never going to be good enough. Anything that moved him toward that goal was fine. Math camp, science fair awards, anything like that was good. Time spent writing when he could have been studying something else, that wasn't. Wrestling was good. Scouting was good. Role playing wasn't. Reading was fine, as long as it was properly 'male' type things, mysteries were fine, Tom Clancy was even better, fantasy, not so much so, but even with that, if it glorified warrior culture, then it was good.

"I talked to John a few weeks ago, and he had this sort of hyper-masculine ideal of who Tim was supposed to be, and anything in line with that was encouraged, but there isn't a whole lot of Tim in line with that. And that was always where the friction came in. He got John to play D&D with him once, rolled up characters, and of course John's playing this huge fighter with lots of muscles and a sword bigger than I am, but Tim rolled up a wizard, and at first level those guys are more or less useless. You've got to keep them safe, carry them around for a while, and eventually they can wipe the board clean with a spell, but you've got to keep them alive long enough to let them get there. Anyway, John had been hoping that he'd be able to run that like a lesson in combat tactics, and instead it ended up being a massive lecture about strength and power and how men are supposed to act and both of them had an awful time and never played again.

"What John didn't know, and Tim wasn't able to express because he was ten, is that a fighter is a tank, they wade into battle and take out whatever's nearby, relying on force to kill and heavy armor to protect them. A magic user is artillery, raining fire down from a sheltered location. Put both together and you're in better shape than you'd be with two fighters. And if either of them could have figured that out, they could have had a pretty good time, but they couldn't. And then because they couldn't, John poisoned it."

Gibbs thinks about that, realizes that somewhere along the line Penny must have played with Tim, and the something else hits. He latches onto 'anything that distracted away from the goal of being the third Admiral McGee' and mixes that with the few specifics he's got from Tim from what John used to say to him. "He was terrified Tim was gay, wasn't he?"

Penny shrugs. "He was terrified Tim was feminine. Come on, Jethro, you've been around long enough you know gay/straight isn't how it works. Not in the Navy, probably not in the Marines. No one cares if you like boys or girls as long as you 'act like a man.' A mouth's a mouth and it doesn't matter who's mouth it is as long as it's not yours, right?"

Gibbs blanched at that. He'd never, ever expected Penny to be that frank. But she's also right. That's always how it played when he was in. You were only "gay" if you were the one doing the sucking/getting fucked.


"So, no, I don't think he was ever afraid that Tim liked boys. It's always been blatantly obvious that he doesn't. He fell in love with his first girl when he was three. So, no, not gay. It was entirely about him not being John's idea of a man. Tim walking around in a kilt and eyeliner with his pregnant wife is vastly scarier to John than him sleeping with a new man each week, as long as Tim's the top and he's wearing a uniform when he heads home."

Gibbs doesn't quite know what to do with that. Because he knows that he feels, well, felt, the same way, granted a much milder version of it, but it's definitely there. Male, female, gay, straight, somewhere in between, none of that mattered as long as you weren't 'girly.'

Or as Ziva put it, "I am not good with the crying and the women."

It's not as strong as it used to be, but yeah, that's something that's true about him, and something that used to irk him about Tim and Jimmy.

First time he saw Tim wear the kilt to one of their family gatherings he just sort of sighed. Same thing with Jimmy being a bridesmaid. There are just some things men don't do, wearing skirts and being a bridesmaid are two of them. And they should know that, but they don't seem to, and it's not bad or anything that makes him angry, it's just… kind of weird.

But his identity and hopes and dreams aren't tied into any idea of how Tim or Jimmy are supposed to act. At least, not in that regards. It's tied to them being good husbands and fathers, but that's something he doesn't worry about when it comes to them. So he can sigh, shrug, catch Tony or Fornell's eye and flash a quick, What the hell? look across the room and be done with it.

They're sitting in his driveway, probably have been for a while, but he's finally just noticing it. So he grunts an absent-minded goodbye to Ducky and Penny, thinking about how he would have handled a sensitive little boy, not like John did, certainly, but whether he could have been properly supportive.

He walks into his house, realizing no one said anything about if Abby will be able to have other babies after this, and that suddenly he has no idea if he'll ever get to find out how he'd handle a gentle little boy.

And suddenly he's wishing, praying, that he'll get the chance to find out, because he's bound and determined that Tim's son will have men around him that love him no matter who he chooses to be.

He can't fix or change what happened with Tim and John, but he can be a the tough, old, gruff Marine who loves Tim's boy-and the image of that child, should he ever exist, is suddenly achingly clear in Gibbs' mind-the way Tim should have been loved.

"Sean James McGee"


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