Gibbs stood on the fringes of the bustling crowd, watching the proceedings quietly. Around him, the rest of the extended Scuito-McGee clan buzzed like happy bees, chattering, laughing, changing hugs and snapping pictures. The field was covered with the other families who were doing the same. Smiling for the camera as they pinned those hard earned gold bars on their graduate. A few feet in front of him, Abby and McGee were doing the same, with a bit of assistance from Cmdr. McGee, who was patiently instructing Abby in the proper placement for what must have been at least the third time. He shook his head in amusement. Tim, who had grown up in the Navy, and seen commissioning and promotion ceremonies with his father numerous times, had no trouble. Abby, on the other hand, despite having worked for the Navy for more than 20 years, still hadn't a clue. Hell, Abby still hadn't managed to master a proper salute. He looked up, as Leigh laughed at something Katie had said. The girls -- Katie included, though she would rarely admit it these days, being that determined civilian that she was -- had mastered a proper salute by the time they were toddlers. He supposed, he thought, grinning at the memory, he should have known then that Leigh, who could salute better than most green trainees he had seen by the time she started kindergarten, was bound for the service, but he didn't; nobody did. At the time, it was just precocious and very cute, even if he did say so himself.
He had been sitting at his desk working on the paperwork for a case they had closed a few hours before. When the phone rang and Abby's excited voice came over the line.
"Gibbs... Gibbs... Gibbs," Abby had said excitedly, "come see what the girls learned."
He had agreed, putting away his paperwork and stepping into the elevator, praying as he did, that his slightly excitable forensic scientist hadn't decided to teach her three-year-old twins to operate the mass spec or run a fingerprint search or something equally outrageous. He didn't think she would, but with Abby you could never tell. The last time she had to bring them in to work with her on a Saturday, he found them playing a version of some sort of matching game using photographs of tire treads. Of course, given the sorts of photographs Abby had in her lab, he supposed that was pretty tame. Not that he really thought that he would expose her children to the more gruesome aspects of her job, it's just that Abby's idea of educational was a little bit different than most people's.
His question was answered when the elevator came to a halt at Abby's lab. He stepped out, and Leigh came racing over to him, skidding to a halt a foot or so in front of him with Katie following close behind, yelling, "Uncle Gibbs, Uncle Gibbs, watch!"
"I'm watching," he told her, suppressing a grin. Her long brown pigtails had become disheveled in her excitement and had strands sticking out in every direction. She was wearing a garish orange T-shirt and denim short overalls, paired with sparkly sneakers the color of a grape. He raised an eyebrow at Abby in question, but she simply shrugged, mouthing, 'she likes it.'
Her sister, by contrast, wore a light pink dress and sandals. Even this young, they were beginning to develop very distinct and very different personalities.
"Uncle Gibbs," Leigh whined, clearly noticing that his detention had drifted away from her. When he looked back at her, she drew herself up to attention -- or as close to attention as a three-year-old could manage in any case -- and saluted him. Beside her, Katie did the same. It was sloppy, and they both used the wrong hand, but he grinned nonetheless.
"Good job!" he said, beaming at them, but then he dropped down to their level and leaned in close. "Can I tell you a secret?" he asked conspiratorially. Both girls nodded vigorously, eager to be in on the secret. "Marines salute with the other hand," he said soto voce.
"But Mama said..." Katie protested.
"I know, I know," Gibbs said quickly, shushing her dramatically. "I told you; it's a secret." Katie's eyes went wide as understanding slowly dawned. "Come on," he told them, leading them by the hand into an abandoned section of the hallway, "I'll show you." He'd then spent a very enjoyable half-hour or so teaching them how to salute correctly, and he'd enjoyed the fruit of his labor a few months later when Secnav had come into the office for a meeting one afternoon just as Abby brought the girls in from preschool to let them say hello to Tim before she took them down to the NCIS daycare for the afternoon. Seeing the little girls, Secnav had stopped and said hello. Tim had introduced them, and Leigh, who had apparently sensed the man's importance, had shocked them all by drawing herself up and giving him a nearly flawless salute. The man's slack-jawed look was priceless.
Now, he thought with a surge of pride, the little girl he'd taught to salute was an officer in her own right, and it was his turn to salute her. Even if he was want to talk about his feelings, which they all knew he wasn't, he doubted he could have ever expressed to her how much this meant to him, or how proud he was of her and the career she'd chosen. He worried for her too, deep in a small corner of his heart. Military life wasn't easy. He knew better than most the hardships and horrors she'd face, and he'd be lying if he didn't admit there was a part of him that would've like to spare her that. He tried to tell himself that didn't have to be like that. Plenty of people went their entire careers without the darkness touching them, but somehow he knew Leigh wouldn't be one of them. She was too much like him -- and her parents for that matter -- to take the easy road. There was nothing he could do except be there when it happened.
No, he corrected, there was one more thing he could do, that he had to do.
He stepped forward, drawing a more formal military bearing around him as easily as he had stepped into his uniform that morning. He caused quite a stir when he'd shown up in his uniform, but now he was simply one of dozens of Marines on the field, indistinguishable from the rest.
Or so he thought.
The effect of his movement was electric. The family parted before him like the Red Sea, and the very air around them seemed to crackle with anticipation. He strode purposefully over to Leigh, stopping just short of where she stood. Their eyes met and held. He fought down a wave of emotion that bubbled forth, but he knew his eyes were shining, despite his best efforts. Standing ramrod straight, he saluted her.
"Congratulations, Ma'am," he said quietly.
Leigh's own eyes filled with tears as she returned the salute and pressed her ceremonial silver dollar into his palm with her other hand. "Thank you, Gunny," she replied, her voice strong, but thick with emotion.
Gibbs turned on his heel and stepped away, completing the formal ceremony. As soon as he had, Leigh reached out and stopped him with a hand on his arm. He turned back to her, and a moment later she was in his arms, the tears she had been fighting back spilling down cheeks. "I'm so proud of you, Leigh," he said into her ear. Tomorrow, she would begin life as Ensign McGee, and more likely than not, look the darkness in the face, but at this moment, none of that mattered. At this moment, all was right with the world.