Summary: Tim's father was the best man Tim had ever known. He wishes he had words to describe how great his dad was. He wishes even more that he never had to explain it to anyone. OC death. Slight spoilers for "Double Identity" (7 x 17).
Disclaimer: Not mine, and no money made here.
With thanks to Athaeth and JPLE for the betas.
At times, it was almost like Tim's dad was dead to him. Tim would look at his dad and remind himself who his father had been while the man he'd proudly 'yes, sired' and 'no, sired' once upon a time stared at Tim with those blank eyes that passed right through Tim. The brief moments of lucidity Dad used to get made it all worth it once—worth visiting the nursing home, comforting his own mother in her never ending grief, trying so hard to simulate for Sarah what their dad had been for Tim—none of it seemed so bad when his dad had lifted his eyelids and met Tim's gaze with clarity. No hardship had been too hard to bear when he looked at Tim and knew him. Nothing else had mattered when Dad remembered not just Tim's name, but the man he had been to Tim.
And then one Wednesday in June, the nursing home called, and there was no 'almost' any longer: After twelve years living with Alzheimer's disease, Tim's dad was dead.
"Mr. McGee?" the woman on the other end of the line gently prods, and Tim can't remember if she introduced herself when she called, but Tim's pretty sure it has to be Monica, Tim's favorite of all of Dad's day nurses. "Would you like us to inform your mother?"
Tim rubs his hand across his eyes. "No," the word comes out shortly, and a distant part of Tim is hoping it isn't rude as well. "No, I'll take care of it," he forces out the words a little more softly.
And Tim looks up then, so grateful that the bullpen's practically empty, that his team's gone off to interview witnesses while he stays grounded in the office with a broken left shoulder.
He sniffs and blinks hard a few times. Then he refocuses. He wishes he didn't have to go tell both his mom and Sarah about Dad in the same day. His mom will cry so very much, and Sarah won't cry at all. And Tim will be right there in the middle. Just like always.
Tim forces himself to his feet, collects his gun, fumbling with the clip he borrowed from Tony to position his weapon on his right hip. He picks up his keys and tosses his backpack over his good shoulder.
He calls Vance on the way, asking for personal time, but unable to open his mouth to offer an explanation as to why he needs it. The Director listens to the hesitance in his tone, doesn't question it, only asking how much time Tim needs. Tim tells him he'll be back to work Monday morning. Hanging up the phone, it's hard to imagine such a short amount of time could be enough to close out a man's life, but the truth is, Tim likely won't even need even that much. His dad's been gone for years. Most of his life's already been shuttered away.
He's at Sarah's work before six pm, even with traffic. It's not during her official work hours, but Sarah can often be found in the graduate lounge adjoining the office she shares with her fellow TAs.
"Hey," Tim peeks his head into the lounge but doesn't see Sarah right away, "Either of you seen Sarah McGee?" he asks a redhead he vaguely recognizes as a friend of his sister's as well as a blond guy she used to date.
"Tim?" Sarah's voice comes from the hall before either of them can answer.
He jerks his head from the room, eyes zooming to hers, and she must see something in his body language because her face pinches, and she grabs for his hand.
"What happened?" she demands, fear flowing throughout the fluid tones.
Tim squeezes her hand back gently. "It's Dad," he tells her. "He's gone."
And Tim had known Sarah wouldn't be upset like he and their mother would, but the soft loosening of her posture makes him purse his lips, seeing but trying so hard to ignore her unintentional disrespect to their father. Tim knows Sarah never knew Dad like he did, but watching the relief fill her features as she learns it's not their mother or someone else Sarah actually thinks about every day that's passed on makes Tim want to shake her, to get out the old videos Tim digitized ten years ago and make her see, make her remember.
She glances up to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry," she speaks softly, but Tim knows the deference and the sorrow in her tone is for him, not for their dad.
But he's aware of how hard she's trying. It's not her fault she doesn't have the same memories Tim does. So he nods anyway, the motion carrying past that simple acknowledgement, and his head keeps bobbing up and down as he says, "I've gotta go tell Mom now. Do you want to ride with me?" And he doesn't let go of her hand because it's like he can't.
"No," she quickly shakes her head, "I'll drive in tonight." Then guilt washes over her face as she realizes how abrupt her reaction is and how apparent her relief is at the reprieve Tim's giving her from their mother's grief. "Tim—" Sarah steps closer, but he squeezes her hand once more and manages a smile for her.
"It's okay," he promises her. "I understand," and he does, a little.
She gives him those huge eyes, bites that bottom lip that always gives her away whenever she feels the slightest bit guilty.
"Hey," he tugs her towards him and tucks her under his good arm, managing half a hug. He kisses her forehead. "It really is okay, Sarah," he promises because he's sure it will be.
Sarah hugs him back, stepping on her toes to give him a kiss before she pulls away. "I'll see you tonight," she lowers her chin and looks up at him.
Tim nods, backing away, "Be careful driving," he stalls and narrows his eyes.
"I promise," and her eyes are solemn.
He walks away, the timbre of her words echoing in his ears.
Tim doesn't even have to speak the words to his mother. All he does is call her name as he walks into the yard where she works among her tulips. He sits in the grass beside her where she kneels in the dirt. And the wails of mourning that escape her mouth when she sags against him are the worst he's ever heard from her. And Mom clings to him, and Tim holds her as steady as he can. With the way she's shaking, he's pretty sure she can't feel the shivers running through his own body, like gooseflesh has taken over ever part of him, inside and out.
And she cries, and she cries, and she hasn't stopped in twelve years. And Tim's eyes are dry as he holds her, thinking of the calls he has to make—Magen Funeral Home, Pastor Kinney, Aunt Jenny and Aunt Rita, Cousin Flora, Jan's Catering, Gail from Mom's book club, Dad's old XO Captain Knightly. He keeps the list in his mind, watching it grow the longer his mother clings to him.
When Mom consents to go inside, she takes the stairs to her bedroom. She still calls it 'their bedroom' even though Dad hasn't slept there in five years, since Mom stopped being able to take care of him at night.
Tim puts on the kettle, gets out the lavender tea. He can't even stand the smell of it, but Mom always drinks it to soothe herself when she gets bad news. She practically lived on it in the early nineties. Tim waits for the tea to steep, adds a bit of extra sugar and takes the beverage upstairs to his mother.
Her eyes are shut where she lies on the bed. The door of the medicine cabinet in the adjoining bathroom is still open. She forgets to shut it sometimes when there's a lot on her mind. Tim doesn't have to look to know the lid to her valium prescription's still resting bottom up on the bathroom counter.
Taking a breath, he tries to silently ease some of the tension from his shoulders. Then, when he can, he gently sets the teacup on the dressing table and heads into the bathroom to straighten up. He's disappointed when he's done in twenty seconds. He blinks and holds onto the vanity, but he knows he can't avoid going downstairs to make his list of phone calls, so he just pushes himself off the counter and walks away. He never glances in the mirror.
The funeral arrangements were solidified and paid for years ago. Tim had gone with his father to see Patrick Magan nine years ago when it still felt like there was a chance Dad could escape the fate coming to him. Afterward, Tim had helped Dad remember the names of the church songs he liked best, the readings that meant the most to him. Mom yelled at them both for days when she realized Dad had taken Tim with him to make the arrangements she'd refused to consider. Tim's pretty sure she still doesn't know what they'd decided on that day. But Tim doesn't even need to reference the document he'd created on his computer the day after and later transferred to every phone he's had since.
His father's wishes have always been easy for Tim to call to mind, and Dad's last wishes are no different.
Thursday passes in a blur. Mom's friends and a multitude of Navy wives bring over so many casseroles that Tim fervently wishes Tony were here for almost ten full minutes so the older agent could help Tim get rid of them. Remnants of the feeling linger even after Tim has a stroke of inspiration with the Tupperware.
The two viewings are on Friday. Tim brings a few physical photos, but most of the pictures are on the flashdrives he plugs into the funeral home's digital picture frames.
He stands by his mother's side until Aunt Rita and Aunt Jenny make it in during the first viewing. Then Mom's sisters flank her, and Tim moves deliberately through the crowd, remembering the people who'd meant so much to his dad once when his dad still remembered who they were. There are a few faces Tim can't place, but by and large, Tim can greet them all. And so he does.
And he smiles through every bad joke about the sling his arm is in. He purses his lips under solemn eyes at every offer of condolence. He nods and answers questions about his life now, lifts his chin as he asks after their lives and those of acquaintances he once shared with the other mourners.
And at the end of the second viewing, Tim sees Mom and Sarah home. He takes the sofa that night as Aunt Rita and Uncle John sleep in Tim's old bed. He knows he falls asleep himself because it is dark when he closes his eyes and then when he opens them, the faint light of dawn is creeping back towards him. He does not dream.
As Tim wakens in those early hours of Saturday morning, he rolls onto his bad shoulder and yelps in pain. He stays quiet for a moment, but no one says a thing. Everyone must still be asleep.
It's in that silence that surrounds the house when it really hits Tim: He's going to bury his father today. And then even worse, the thought on its heels: His father is dead, and his shoulder is broken, so he can't even be a pallbearer, and with that angry and impotent thought, Tim comes to the sudden realization that he has nobody else to step in for him today. Maybe he can ask one of the cousins, but he really well and truly doesn't want to.
Tim's expected to be his father's pallbearer for the last twelve years. He's imminently expected it for the last three years. He never imagined he'd be unable to perform his last duty as a son. The idea was so foreign to his mind last night that when George Magan asked Tim about it between the viewings, Tim had told him that all the pallbearers were accounted for and would be ready in the morning. But now they're one short, and it's all because of his screw up.
And it's too much, and Tim can't take it anymore. He throws on his jeans and a t-shirt, shoves his feet into his sneakers, and then he runs out the door. He makes it to Magan's fifteen minutes before George and his uncle, Patrick, get there.
Tim's so grateful when neither of the Magans asks for an explanation. He doesn't have any idea what he might have said if they'd questioned him. They open the doors to his father's room and continue about their morning routine in silence. Tim moves to stand by his father immediately, taking his rightful place at his dad's side for the last time.
The casket remains open. The decision on whether it would be open or closed was one he and Dad didn't make nine years ago. Dad had said back then that it was a choice Tim would have to make when the time came. And maybe it was the wrong decision to let people see how this disease had diminished him, had taken Dad away from himself, but when the Magans offered Tim that choice, all he could think was that he didn't want to shut his eyes on his father until he had to, wanted to keep on looking for as long as he could.
And so Tim stands there and looks at Dad, holding Dad's hand, rubbing a thumb against the back of that hand as Tim tries to figure out how he can possibly close this last door between them. And he can't see anything else but Dad, and he can't feel anything else, and his ears can only hear the silence between them.
And that's why Tim doesn't hear the footsteps coming up behind him until after a wide and calloused hand rests itself gently on his neck.
And suddenly he can hear a faint and familiar cadence of breath behind him. He's able to catch a whiff of a well-known aftershave. And he doesn't need to hear his name from that voice he listens to every day for him to recognize Gibbs is right on his six. He hears it anyway.
"We're here, Tim," Boss steps closer and squeezes Tim's neck.
And Tim would swipe at his face because he's just realized he's crying, but he only has one good hand, and he's just not ready to let go of his dad.
"I can't—I can't do this today, Boss," and Tim holds onto Dad tighter.
"Easy," Boss runs his hand up to the back of Tim's head, rubs along the hair there. "Easy, Tim," and that warm, soft motion contrasts so deeply with the cold, hard stillness of Dad's hand below Tim's.
"I can't," Tim's head shakes. His whole body shakes, and he can't—he won't let go. "I refuse," his jerky gasps punctuate the words.
"Easy," Gibbs says one more time and rests his other hand just above Tim's right elbow, but he doesn't try to talk Tim out of his denial, doesn't tell Tim that he doesn't have a choice in the matter though of course they both know he doesn't because whether or not Tim is ready for it to happen, he is going to bury his dad today.
And then Tim feels softer fingers just below his ear, below the grip that Gibbs won't loosen. He's just barely identified Abby's touch when she proclaims,
"We love you, Timmy, and we're here," her voice is both soft and fierce. In other times, her insistence would make Tim smile. Now, it just makes him think of how his father never knew Abby, never saw this quality that Tim finds so endearing.
Her hand moves away and another pats his back. "We've got your six, Probie," Tony declares in that tone that reminds Tim of the night the two of them got wasted during an Al Pacino marathon, and Tony blurted in the middle of Scarface how he would totally help Tim get rid of the body if Tim ever needed to kill anyone.
Tim's breath escapes him with a heave of his chest. For a second, it nearly seems he might be able to laugh at the memory—not much, just a single chuff or two, but something at least.
"We are all behind you, McGee," and Ziva's pat on his good shoulder is the most awkward touch of all, but Tim can feel the warmth behind her intentions.
"Yes, indeed, Timothy. We are all here for you," Tim can hear Ducky walk closer to him, but the older man doesn't move in any farther because instead, Gibbs does.
Boss doesn't even move much, just not-quite presses his chest to Tim's good shoulder, tugs a tiny touch along the back of Tim's head. And Tim follows that small motion to rest his forehead against Gibbs' shoulder as the older man leans into him.
Tim doesn't even realize at first that his good arm follows through on the motion, releases Dad's hand in order to grab at Boss' back. Tim gasps when he feels that new warmth under his fingers, when he realizes a part of him's already trying to move on.
And the weeping comes from Tim for once as Gibbs holds him close and tight. And Tim had never cried over any of it before, hadn't bemoaned fate or railed against how horribly and terribly and incredibly unjust it was for a man like Tim's father—who had such will, such integrity and passion, such love—should be condemned to nothing before his life drifted away into a sort of blank forgotteness. Tim hadn't cried because when Dad came and told him about the Alzheimer's, came and sat down with Tim alone in his room, Dad told Tim that there was nothing to rally against, and while yeah, Dad was angry and yeah, Dad was even bitterly disappointed at the turn his life had taken, he knew at the same time, that he'd raised Tim to be a good man, and that fact would outlive him and this disease both.
And Tim had held onto that so hard for the last twelve years because he's known all that time that he was what Dad held onto in those brief moments of clarity that eventually only struck him often enough to give him pain before they simply died out completely. Tim's pretty sure that he is a big part of the reason Dad tried all those experimental drugs that made him so sick but had kept him aware and alive for just a little while longer. And Tim knows that the only reason Dad could approach his disease with as much peace as he had was because he knew Tim would do everything he possibly could to take care of Mom and Sarah even before Dad was gone.
Tim pulls away from Gibbs, looks at his whole team right there beside him, even Palmer hiding by Ducky near the second row of chairs, and they're all here without even understanding, and he wants so badly to let them know. "He never read my books," Tim's body heaves with every inhalation. "He couldn't by then. He knew I'd become a writer, that I'd been published, and he was proud of me when he remembered about it, but he couldn't read them." Tim looks directly to Abby, "I wanted my children to know him," he tries to emphasize with the small and measured movement of his good hand, "but Sarah didn't even get to. She doesn't even understand what we lost. She has no idea the man he was before," Tim yanks his shirt up and swipes his face, pulling away a mound of snot and tears. "How do you relate the magnitude of something like that?" he demands, eyes on Tony now. "How could they understand it?"
And Abby's there crying with him, while Tony and Palmer's brows are both furrowed with compassion. Even Ziva's eyes are wet. Ducky won't quite look at him, and Tim drops his own gaze, realizing just how much the older man understands, and maybe he's the only other one here who does, and Tim hates that they share that sort of knowledge.
Gibbs' face is out of Tim's view, but his hand once again tightly grips Tim's uninjured shoulder. "She'll come to understand," Boss speaks quietly, "because the longer she looks at you, the more she'll realize what a good man your father had to be to help make you into the man you are today."
Tim flips back around, Boss' words spurring more words from himself. "I've tried," Tim's face is so pinched up between his tears and grief, "I've tried so hard to be someone he would be proud of. I wanted—I want to be the kind of man he was."
Boss cups Tim's neck, drops his chin, and narrows his entire focus right on Tim. "He was proud of you. He didn't have to read your books to know how good they were," Gibbs shakes his head. "He already knew you."
And Tim blinks his eyes shut, remembering that day he'd come into Dad's room with the advance copy of Deep Six. Dad was still living at home then, and though the level of memory he'd already lost affected much of what he did each day, he was still able to recognize Tim every time he saw him. Dad's eyes had lit up with pure glee when he realized what Tim was telling him, and he'd dragged Tim from the room immediately to run and find Mom so they could tell her, too.
Tim shifts to look behind Gibbs, to look right at the stillness of his father. Gibbs steps out of the way, and Tim walks to his dad.
"Thank you," he whispers to Dad. "I'll always try to be the kind of man you would want me to be." Tim leans in, squeezes Dad's hand and kisses his cheek one last time. "I love you," he tells him and takes one more, long look.
Tim straightens up. "I'm just gonna—" he gestures towards the washroom, and starts walking that way. Tony and Ziva both pat him on the back as he goes—Tony's pat is almost overly enthusiastic, while Ziva's seems the epitome of awkward. It's perfect.
Washing up in the bathroom, he feels at peace for the first time in a very long time. When he comes back out, he carries that sense of harmony with him.
"Tony," Tim looks to his friend when he catches back up with the team because there is no one else he could ever ask to do this, "we're one pallbearer short," Tim licks his lips. "I didn't think about," he lifts his arm in the sling, wincing immediately at the pain spiking all the way down to his fingers as he does so.
"Tim, I'd be honored to stand in your place," Tony says with a solemnity Tim's hardly ever heard from him.
"Thanks," Tim nods, feeling the words so deeply within him. "Thank you, all of you," he redirects his gaze around the circle of friends standing like sentries beside him. Suddenly, Tim's eyes take in their dress attire, and he's reminded of his own clothing.
He looks down at his snotty t-shirt and jeans. "Crap."
"Ah!" Abby interrupts him from further cursing himself. "No worries McGee. I called Sarah, and she's coming early with your suit and shoes," Abby emphasizes by turning her hand to first Tim's body, then his feet.
"Have you had breakfast?" Ziva chimes in, "because I packed an extra protein drink. It is in the car," she points towards the main entrance.
"Um, yeah," Jimmy finally speaks, "and I stopped at McDonald's and got some real food if you're hungry."
Ziva and Abby both turn and glare at Palmer.
"What?" Jimmy questions, genuinely confused.
Tony cringes, and then directs a word to Tim, seemingly more by long held habit than by their recent conversation. "Autopsy Gremlin's still got a lot to learn about women, I see."
"Anthony, I do believe I have asked you not to use that term," Ducky's voice lilts slightly higher. "It implies a rather unsavory image of medical examiners that is hardly applicable."
Gibbs chuffs. "Think that habit might be too deeply ingrained, Duck."
"It only takes thirty days to break a habit, Gibbs," Abby points out with an ornery grin, picking the side of the argument she'll choose for the moment until she switches to play devil's advocate for the other.
"I have never understood what an autopsy gremlin is supposed to be in any case," Ziva squints. "Gremlins are evil little green animals that should not eat after midnight, yes?"
"Ziva, Ziva, Ziva," Tony shakes his head with exaggerated paternalism. "Haven't you ever seen the Outer Limits?" Tony lifts his brows. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet?" he adds as if that'll offer any clarification.
"I have not seen it, but should I acquire the urge to do so, I can assure you that you would not want to reach such heights with me," she lifts her chin in emphasis to the, well, rather mild threat compared with last week.
"So, I guess the Mile High Club's out?" Tony smirks.
"Uhh!" Ziva flips her arms outward in exasperation.
"Oh, dear," Ducky dips his chin and sneaks a quick glance at Gibbs.
But when Tim checks the hurried look, Gibbs isn't staring back at Ducky. His eyes are straight on Tim, keeping watch like maybe it feels to him like it's his job now.
Tim swallows, struck by the memory of his father keeping an eye on him while he'd played as a child in the mud of their backyard after a rare thunderstorm in San Diego.
"I told Dad about you, Boss," he says to Gibbs.
Gibbs lifts his brow in question, a hint of a hint of a smile teasing the crinkles of his eyes. "Yeah?"
Tim nods. "He always enjoyed hearing stories about you. He said he liked knowing someone was looking out for me."
Boss out and out smiles then. "I'd've liked to have met your dad."
"You would have liked each other, I think," Tim drops his gaze as he considers. "He just—" Tim shakes his head. "He didn't really like meeting new people after a certain point."
"Tell me about him," Gibbs urges gently.
And when Tim looks up, every one of his team's eyes are on him, each of them just as interested in Tim's response. "Well," Tim smiles softly then takes a chair, his friends following suit around him. "We had this annual camping trip, just the two of us, every year…"