Admiral Terrence McGee answered the phone to hear the words the hadn't heard in over 7 years; "Hi, dad? It's me; Tim." As if it could have been anyone else. The hesitation in Tim's voice made him bristle, but the words directly after splashed over him like cold water. "Penny was involved in one of our cases dad. Deeply involved. I thought you should know in case it comes up at work."
Terry blinked and sat back in his chair, his fingers tightening on the phone. "How bad is it? Is she ok? How much trouble are you in? Do I need to-"
Tim drew in a deep breath, his eyebrows furrowing. "I took care of it, Dad. She's ok. It was over a project she worked on in the 70s. I can't go into it, especially over the phone, but she's fine. One of my colleagues is bringing her home. Kind of..."
Terry's frown deepened at the hesitation in his sons voice; he'd hoped that NCIS had drummed that out of him at least. "Tim, you're stammering again; what have I told you-"
Tim's back straightened and his eyes snapped back into focus. "Back off Dad. I mean it." The hesitation and stammer vanished as his jaw set stubbornly. "Our ME is bringing Penny to dinner before bringing her home. This call is a courtesy to inform you about what happened with your mother. Good evening." The receiver was slammed back down onto the cradle and Tim grabbed his jacket and bag and stormed to the elevator, jabbing the button repeatedly to open the doors.
By the time he reached his home, his anger had dissipated, and he was left with the melancholia that even thinking about his father usually brought. He pulled in to the driveway of the house he'd recently moved to and sighed softly as he spotted Jethro behind the side gate, patiently waiting for him to arrive home.
Less than twenty minutes later, he and Jethro were pounding along the pavement and the tension of the day began to drain away, and by the time they rounded the corner of the block an hour later, there was a spring in his step. He slowed as he spotted an unfamiliar car in front of his driveway, and dropped Jethro's leash as they approached, putting his hand to the concealed holster at his back. The door opened before they got there, and a grey-haired man climbed out.
"Dad? What are you doing here?" Tim looked as surprised as he sounded, and when his father made no move to answer, he realised that Jethro had moved in close, his hackles raised, growling. "Butch; stand down. Friend." Jethro immediately sat down and began to pant, his tongue lolling out of the corner of his mouth. "Dad?"
Terry stared down at the suddenly friendly dog and shook his head. "Sarah never said you got a dog..." he trailed off and finally met his son's gaze. "I came to apologise. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. And to thank you for taking care of your Grandmother."
Tim's expression didn't change, but he snapped his fingers at Jethro who turned and trotted up the path, easily vaulting the gate to get into the back garden. "Coffee? I could use one." He didn't wait for his father to answer, but opened the front door and didn't close it behind him. He heard it close a few moments later and ducked into the small bathroom off the hall to tear off his sweat-soaked t-shirt. His father leant against the wall outside and waited as Tim quickly run a wet soapy facecloth over his chest and frowned again. If he hadn't known this was Tim's house from talking to Sarah, he would have walked straight past the stranger in front of him. Gone was the pudgy baby-fat, though the face still remained deceivingly youthful. The boy had lost a lot of weight, and was now toned and muscular.
"You're looking good, Tim. And that's a fine dog you have. Butch, is it?"
"Actually, it's Jethro; long story." Tim sighed and waited for his father to dismiss it, but was surprised when Terry smiled slightly.
"I'm not going anywhere, Tim." The words startled him, and he cleared his throat awkwardly as he grabbed another t-shirt that had been left there on purpose and he dragged it on over his head before leading the way to the kitchen where a coffee percolator was just finishing making a fresh pot.
"Brewed to my boss's taste, so you should like it." He murmured as he handed him a mug. He didn't wait for an answer, but poured out his own and led the way to the back deck, where Jethro was busy chasing a squirrel along the fence.
"So; Jethro? It's an odd name for a dog." Terry settled himself in a chair and watched his son smile ruefully.
"Yeah, well, I didn't name him. He was part of a case we were working on. Our Forensics expert grew too attached to him, and couldn't bear to have him put down or go to another home. She twisted my arm a little and got me to take him in because she couldn't have pets at her apartment. She's the one named him Jethro after our Boss. He answers to it, but takes orders as Butch because of his training; he's a former Navy Drug dog. He's also slightly nuts." Both men winced as the German Shepherd, intent on catching the squirrel, ran headlong into the fence with a yelp. "And dumb as a brick. But he's got a good heart..."
"How was he part of a case?" Terry asked curiously. He didn't know how, but he'd managed to persuade himself that his son wasn't a full agent, but was quickly remembering an odd conversation with Sarah several years before.
"We were investigating a drug trafficking ring and found him with his owner...he'd mauled him to death. Turned out Jethro had been dosed with cocaine, and the drug traffickers had framed his owner; Jethro mauling him was to cover their tracks. They'd planted money and coke in the house." As he spoke he watched Jethro stagger for a moment and then resume his chase. His finger traced a faint scar on his forearm without him realising it, and Terry sat forwards, noticing the distant look in his son's eye.
"Oh, he was still high when we got there; Tony, Ziva and Gibbs went through the front door and I was covering the back. Instead of a suspect running out, I had a 90lb lump of fur and teeth launch itself out of the door at me. He mauled me; I shot him. I guess we could say we're even stevens at this point. He's never shown a hint of unwarranted aggression after that though. We both healed."
Terry blinked as Tim took a sip from his coffee and reclined back, only to straighten with a wince. "What's-"
"Forgot to take off the holster." Tim groused, fishing at his back for a moment before setting the Sig on the table by his side. Catching his father's expression he shrugged. "I'm a Federal Field Agent, dad. I have to carry portal-to-portal. That includes going for a run. I've pissed off enough people over the years, let alone the ones my team have caught collectively to risk going out on my own unarmed."
"I just can't believe...I never would have put you at law enforcement, son. No- let me speak." He held up his hand as Tim bristled and shook his head. "I don't mean it like that. I knew your strengths; and I knew that if I could get you into the Navy, you'd be an asset to them. I thought it would open doors for you. And I kept thinking that up until you started in FLETC."
"I am an asset to the Navy, dad. I help protect and keep their loved ones safe while they are deployed. I solve the crimes that could..." He drew in a deep breath. "I help, dad. Just in a different way. If I was stuck in a basement somewhere, or in the bowels of a ship, I wouldn't be happy; even if I could get over the seasickness. Computers are only a part of who and what I am. I would have been bored in a few weeks, and regretting what I'd done for the rest of my life. I'm happy enough where I am now. People like me, dad...we need to be challenged. Constantly. Or we start doing stupid things. Reckless things. Now, at least, I have enough on my plate to keep me busy, and the Director understands and throws me a few bones every now and then to keep my mind busy."
"I know that now, son. And I'm sorry. 7 years too late, I know, but I...I hope we can move past this. I've missed you...I know I've been a hard-ass-"
"You were doing to me what your father did with you. I've always know that, dad. Penelope always made sure I knew that. It's why I don't hate you. I've always understood, even if I didn't like it. Truthfully, I didn't see a problem with it until I was older. When I realised that not everybody's father told them that whatever they did wasn't good enough. That they could do better. I did everything I could dad! Everything to make you happy! And the one thing I wouldn't do was the one damn thing you fixated on!" It came out in an angry burst, and Jethro stopped in his tracks, wondering why his owner was suddenly so angry.
Terry stayed where he was, but hung his head. "I know, son. I know that now. I couldn't see it then. I was so frustrated, with everything; not just you. And I took it out on you. With your mother...as she was, and Sarah, and Penny always going on and on, and work...and I took it out on the one thing that was guaranteed to just sit there and take it. And I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I'm sorry for the past 7 years. I'm sorry that it took whatever happened with Penny to make you call me. And I'm sorry that I didn't have the courage to do it myself. I picked up that phone so many times...it got to the point that Sarah was so sick of me asking her questions, she stopped talking about you. I guess it was right about the time that Jethro over there got you. She started some half-assed story and then just stopped. Son..."
"Start again." Tim had gotten up during his outburst and was now standing with his back to him, both hands balled into fists, but his voice was hopeful. "Start again, with no mention of me joining the Navy; no criticisms dad. I'm in my 30s. I'm an adult, and who I am now, is who I am. I'm not going to change. For the better or for the worse. You know, I went to a speech therapist. He said the stutter that you kept berating me over; it developed because of you. So if I do, it's -"
"Who you are. A federal agent, who takes down drug dealers. And catches murderers."
"And money launderers, and Terrorists, dad. And child abusers, and the worst that human kind has to offer. I think the only thing we haven't dealt with is a cannibal...scratch that." He frowned and sat down again as Jethro bounded over to lean against him, looking for a good scratch behind his ears. "There was a cannibal. Ate his wife's toe..." He cleared his throat and threw a sidelong look at his father whose jaw was slightly unhinged.
"...oh..." Was all that Terry could manage, and Tim began to laugh softly. It turned into a full, deep-throated chuckle, and Terry rubbed his greying face with an embarrassed smile. "Lots of dead bodies, then."
"More than enough. And I've killed more than enough too." He jumped when Jethro suddenly decided to land in his lap and began to wash his face enthusiastically and finally settled down draped across his owners lap. Terry burst into laughter, and tried to use his mug to hide his smile as Tim sighed theatrically and then dug his fingers into the thick fur around the animal's neck, giving him a good scratch. "He misses me during the day." He sighed again and shrugged, heartened to see the twinkle of humour in his fathers eye. He'd never seen it before and suddenly realised why he was so heartened; his father was treating him as an adult.
"What have you been up to?" Tim stretched out his long legs and began to relax as Jethro closed his eyes and shifted until he was completely comfortable. "Like you said; Sarah's been keeping me mostly up to date, but since she went to France..."
"I know. I still can't believe she just upped and left like that. I wasn't too happy. Calling from Charles de Gaul to tell me she'd moved was not the brightest thing she's ever done." Terrence growled and Tim cocked his eyebrow.
"At least she called you; I found out when I called to her apartment and the new tenant told me she'd moved. Considering some of the stunts she's pulled, I don't think either of us should be surprised."
Terry snorted and took a sip from his coffee. "That girl; she's given me most of my grey hairs." They shared a conspiratorial smirk and Tim suddenly cursed as Jethro suddenly bounded off his lap to run a cat out of the garden. Tim's coffee ended up down the front of his t-shirt and he muttered under his breath as he pulled the hot sodden material over his head and used the dry back to towel himself off.
"Sorry dad; I'll be back in a minute." Tim stood and turned to head inside but a strangled cry from his father made him stop in his tracks and turn. "What?"
The second Tim had turned, Terry had been confronted with seeing the pale skin of his son's back covered with bruises. Some were large; one was a full shoeprint, and he could clearly see the heels of boots and long thin lines that could only mean one thing to him.
"Tim...what happened? Your back; god, what happened?" Terry's eyes were wide with horror at the sight, and Tim frowned, his fingers drifting around to touch the offending skin before his face cleared with realisation.
"Oh; that. It's ok...it's hyperpigmentation, dad. It happens sometimes. They don't hurt; they're not actually bruises anymore. More like an echo of a bruise. The doctors in Bethesda said they can take years to fade." He shrugged and trotted back into the house. Emerging with a fresh pot of coffee, a new t-shirt and a plate of cookies, he found his father sitting back in his chair; a stunned expression still on his face.
"One of my partners; Ziva David, she got captured by terrorists three years ago when on a mission for her father; he's the Director of Mossad. We thought she was dead. Mossad had abandoned her...It took us months to track down what her mission had been, and try to piece together what had happened around our other cases. When we finally found who had 'killed' her, we got permission from our Director to finish her mission and bring her killer to justice. So we went to Somalia, and Tony and I arranged for us to be taken so we could get close to the bastard and kil-uh...Finish Ziva's last mission for her." He poured out the coffee and sat down, watching his father's expression carefully.
"Anyways, Tony and I were brought into a room and tied up. They smacked Tony around the face for a while and then dragged him away. And then they started on me. They brought Tony to a room and gave him some kind of sodium penethol type drug to make him spill his guts. When they were done with me, they dragged me into the room with him. That was when we found out Ziva was still alive and being held captive. Tony started singing like a canary 'cos of the drugs but wasn't exactly telling them what they wanted to hear; the fact that our boss is a functional mute isn't exactly a state secret." He grinned at the memory and tried to force down the laugh. "Gibbs was on a hill behind the compound; former Marine Sniper. Took Saleem Ulman out with one shot. Then the cavalry arrived and we bugged out. Got Ziva home, Alive."
Terry didn't – couldn't – open his mouth but his eyes said everything. Rising shakily to his feet, he moved behind Tim and gently tugged up the fresh t-shirt, uncovering the marks again. Tim sat still as his father's eyes roved over the skin, trying to suppress a shiver as trembling fingertips gently grazed what had been a particularly vicious bruise. "Do you know-"
"That was Saleem's boot. He had me against the wall; I think he might have been trying to break my spine. I don't know...there's a couple of whip marks; electrical cord and a plug, I think. They could have done a lot worse, dad; a hell of a lot worse. We've seen the effects of proper torture." He held up his unmarred hands and shrugged. "I still have all my digits, and all my fingernails. I have my sight; nothing was broken beyond repair. Nothing was actually broken aside from two ribs. It might have been a different story if we'd been there any longer, but we weren't. We had a whole company of Marines outside waiting to get us. And Gibbs; we had Gibbs."
He wasn't prepared for his father to tug him backwards and enfold him in a strong hug; his father hadn't touched him since he was a small child, and from memory, couldn't say if the man had ever even hugged him. "Dad...I'm ok."
"I nearly lost you again and I never knew it..." Terry whispered softly, and Tim closed his eyes, wrapping a hand around the arm crossing his collarbone.
They stayed up half the night; not talking much, just enjoying each other's company for possibly the first time in Tim's life. And adjusting to the possibility that this could become the 'norm' for them. Tim liked the feeling but didn't want to keep his hopes up. The next few weeks and months could be the turning point for them, but while he was approaching the situation with an open mind, he was also keeping his 'shields up' for want of a better description. It would be interesting to see if the leopard could indeed change his spots.
It was near to three in the morning when Terry cleared his throat after falling into a long, thoughtful silence. "Tim; I'm going to ask you something and you can decline if you wish with no animosity. This wasn't the reason behind me coming here, and it isn't the reason why I'm here at-" he checked his watch and looked surprised, "0300 hours. I'm working with JAG on a case that's got connections to my command..." He licked his lips worriedly and cleared his throat again.
"What's it about? If you can tell me, I mean?"
"You're an NCIS Special Agent, Tim, with combat experience. I think I can trust you." He smirked. "It's an assault case. The thing is, nobody, from JAG to myself believe it happened; or at least to the extent that's been claimed. But the evidence is there. Would you- could you visit JAG with me? I think you can help."
A few hours later, Tim followed his father's car to Virginia; Jethro panting tiredly on the back seat. Checking his watch as they passed yet another billboard, he pulled out his phone and called Gibbs. "Boss, sorry for disturbing you so early. I know we're on down time this week, but I just wanted to let you know my plans have changed. I won't be in DC for the week; I'm heading down to Norfolk for a few days."
Gibbs frowned but grunted, hoping that the kid was mending bridges with his father. He'd never realised what had been going on behind closed doors with the kid; never realised until the previous days that McGee Jr. saw him as a pseudo father-figure, or that he hadn't talked to his actual father for seven years. "Take care of yourself, McGee. You need me, you call. Got it?"
"Got it Boss. Thanks." He hung up feeling slightly more confident about his place in life and took the turn off his father took, finally ending up at JAG headquarters. His father didn't look too happy when Tim met him with Jethro on a leash, but Tim shook his head. "It's too warm to leave him in the car, even with a window cracked; he'd cook. He'll behave. Butch, On Guard. Heel."
Jethro immediately moved around to Tim's right side, coming to sit slightly behind him in an obvious submissive position. "He's been well trained. Even if he is half-cracked. He'll behave until I give him the command to relax."
"And what's that?"
"Honestly? It's a nonsense made-up word. I think his previous handler was as nuts as his charge. Shall we-?" He gestured to the door and followed his father inside, checking in with security. His badge and ID got him access without having to surrender his gun, and only a slight protest from them about allowing the dog inside.
He followed his father blindly until they reached a large, open-plan office ringed with glass-walled private offices where he guessed the JAG Officers worked. Gibbs would have hated the place; it was filled with lawyers.
Terry paused for a moment, looking around and when he didn't see what he was looking for, he beckoned for Tim to follow him again and made his way towards a door ahead. Knocking quietly, he waited for the call to enter and slipped inside. "Commander Rabb..."
"Admiral." Harm was on his feet in an instant, saluting, as was the female Marine in the office with him. At Terry's command to stand at ease, they relaxed, and the woman turned to look at Tim curiously. "What can we do for you? Do you need to make any changes to your statement...?"
"I have a few questions to pose to you; don't worry, it's related to the case. I know you go to trial in a few days time, but I thought this might be beneficial. I was given some information last night that set me to thinking; we know that Commander Dennis did hit Commander Tyne from the video evidence, but all of the witnesses say it was just a tap to the stomach. The Commander didn't stagger, didn't fold over with pain and didn't appear to be hurt too badly. In fact, he didn't approach anyone regarding his 'injury' for several days."
Harm sat down and nodded slowly, waiting for the Admiral to come to his point. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that perhaps Commander Tyne was injured at a previous date. There is a condition called Hyperpigmentation. It can occur if an injury is strong enough. The skin retains the colouring, appearing as though the victim still has the bruise, but in fact, it is long gone."
Harm looked thoughtful, but Major MacKenzie looked sceptical. "Is there any proof of this?"
At this, Tim stepped closer to his father, effectively bringing himself into the conversation. "There have been several studies conducted on the condition, as well as scientific papers written. If you check the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, there are several articles listed."
"And I have physical proof that the condition exists." Terry looked to his son, unsure if he could push their tentative truce any further. To Tim's credit though, he shrugged off his jacket, handed his gun and holster to his father and pulled his t-shirt off over his head. Turning so they could see his back, he didn't miss the hiss of sympathy from Mac, nor the reflection of Harm grimacing in the glass wall of the office.
"That looks...painful." Harm began, and Tim shrugged, turning back to them.
"It was, at the time. But it's not painful anymore. It's just pigmented skin; like a freckle or a tan. You can touch it, push at it; it doesn't hurt."
Mac chose to push the boundary and walked around him, gently putting her fingers to the heaviest bruising and then pressing when there was no hiss or twitch of a response. "It's really not bruised? How-"
"Special Op. Classified." Terry murmured, flashing his son a look of gratitude which was returned when Tim realised his father wasn't going into much detail.
"And you are-?" Mac asked pointedly, at which Tim smiled.
"NCIS Special Agent Timothy McGee, ma'am."
"You were tortured?"
"Only for a little while." Tim smiled disarmingly, unconsciously channelling Tony, and Mac found herself smiling back at him involuntarily.
"Did you at least achieve your objective?" Harm asked as Mac silently categorised most of the injuries.
Tim nodded. "Our objective was achieved. With an unexpected, and happy outcome. We got back someone we thought was dead. Anyhow..."
Harm smirked at the obvious attempt to change the subject and nodded. "I don't know how we can get information on this in time for court, Admiral. Requesting a police report takes days, which we don't have, even if we knew when it happened. If it happened at all."
At this, Tim smiled and inclined his head slightly, seeming to forget he wasn't wearing his t-shirt anymore. Not that Mac minded; he was in pretty good shape, for all his skin was lilywhite. "I might be able to help you with that. NCIS Special Agent, remember? May I?" He gestured politely to the computer, and though he frowned, Harm moved aside and let the younger man sit behind the machine.
"What are you going to do?"
"I have access to files that you don't. And databases." Tim's fingers were already flying over the keys as he remotely accessed and 'woke' his computer back at the office. If Tony, Ziva or Gibbs had been there, they would have noticed the tiny frown of concentration that furrowed his forehead as he called up a search program and began to look for incident reports or cases involving Commander Tyne. As that began to speed up and spit out information, another window opened and his frown grew.
"Commander Rabb; do you know you have a tracking bug on your machine?" He looked up seriously and Rabb shook his head, moving around the desk to look at the icon flashing on his monitor. "I have my system set-up to run a sweep of whatever machine I'm working from; to make sure I'm not being hacked. Do I have your permission to run a trace?" He asked carefully as a balding man entered and both Harm and Mac shot to attention again.
"At ease." The man looked around the room curiously and folded his arms, drawing Tim's attention to the insignia marking him as Admiral of the Fleet. "Would someone care to explain why there's a shirtless man sitting behind Rabb's desk?" He asked resignedly with a slight hint of exasperation.
"Helping with a case, AJ." Terry murmured good-naturedly. "My son, Timothy. He's accessing some information for the Commander here."
"Commander? Can I-?" Tim was impatient to start the trace, and Harm nodded sharply. Tim's fingers flew across the keyboard as he activated a silent tracker, designed to not be noticed as he continued to work on getting the information Harm needed to proceed with the case. After a few minutes silence, he nodded.
"Got it. I think. The Commander was involved in a bar-brawl approximately two years ago. They couldn't identify who the Commander was fighting, but photographs were taken of the initial injury. Do you have photos of this one?"
Harm nodded and rifled through a file before producing several photographs of a bruised torso. Tim turned the flat screen monitor so it was facing the rest of the room and propped up the photograph below it. "I see..."
AJ frowned and leaned closer. "It's identical...how?"
"Hyperpigmentation. The darker the skin, the more likely it can happen. It's caused by inflammation. A few studies have suggested that it is caused when the skin is injured, melanocytes migrate to the site of the injury as part of the immunological response. The melanocytes then deposit pigment which is taken up by keratinocytes which carry it to the surface where it stays. It can last for up to ten years, and fades gradually." To show his point, he turned in the seat and showed his back to the Admiral, before reaching for his t-shirt. "I would say that Commander Tyne retained the pigmentation from his previous assault. If I was working the case, I would theorise that in the hours after Commander Dennis hit him, he came upon the idea to get his revenge by claiming the assault was more severe than it was. Commander Rabb, I'll send you the information that I have on the condition."
Rabb's computer chimed softly as he finished speaking, and he quickly returned to his other search program. "Oh boy..."
"Son?" Terry asked worriedly, and Tim shook his head.
"CIA. I've tracked your bug to the CIA; well, their Langley branch at any rate. Um...my programme is basically like a dog sitting at a gate right now. Do you want me to go further or should I call it off?"
"I doubt you could go any further anyhow-" Harm began as Mac picked up her desk phone and started dialling. "What?" He asked at the slight blush that flooded Tim's cheeks.
"Uuuuhhhh...the, uh..." He cleared his throat softly and with a glance to the Admiral, straightened his shoulders. "Is it understood in this room that I can not hack the CIA. And I have never gone into their systems without permission during a case, and I will not do it in this instance?"
Terry opened his mouth to demand he answer properly, but AJ nodded thoughtfully, a rueful smile on his face. "Understood." The smile turned into a smirk as Tim fought not to smile and turned back to the computer, as the rest of them began to listen to Mac's side of the conversation.
"Clayton says he knows nothing about it, and wants to know who found it? He's pretty mad someone bugged our computers without his say-so." She hefted up the phone. For the McGee's benefit, she added, "He's the deputy director of the CIA."
"May I?" Tim held out his hand and she gave it to him. "Sir, my name is Special Agent Timothy McGee, NCIS... I was remotely accessing my computer through Commander Rabb's and it ran an automatic programme I have set up to track...yessir...yessir, I can. Uh...permission to access the CIA- Yeah, I'm pretty sure I can do it. No, no, I've never done that before, sir. I just know I have the expertise." Cradling the phone between his ear and his shoulder he began to type and after about a minute cleared his throat. "Mr. Webb, I can send you the IP address, and the registration number of the computer now if you wish?...Yessir, I'm in your mainframe...Nosir, I did not start before you spoke with me...Yessir, I really am that good. You can contact Director Vance if you wish and ask him. Just let him know that you gave your permission for me to do it first, would you? He doesn't like me hacking for no reason. Not that I've ever done it before."
He could hear the Deputy Director chuckling on the other end of the line, and was glad the man had a sense of humour about it. When he was asked to put him back on to Mac, Tim handed over the phone with relief and began to collate all the evidence he had. Putting it into an email took another few minutes, and he finally sent everything he had to Webb. "Ok...Sir, you might want to have someone from your IT department contact our cybercrimes department and ask them to run programme TMG2115-RR on your pc's both here, and anything you might use at home to work on too. I'll contact the new head of Cybercrimes so they'll be waiting for your call. I'll ask her to send Johnson. He's the most...normal of them." He smiled wryly as he signed out of his system and gave control of the computer back to Harm. "They spend on average 9-12 hours a day in a basement; they aren't the most sociable people I've had the pleasure to either work with or be the boss of, but they get the job done."
"Impressive, Terry." AJ murmured in an aside to his fellow admiral. "Not only does he help out with a case, he stops us from being infiltrated by the CIA. You must be proud of him."
Terry nodded, wondering what else he didn't know about his son. AJ left them to it, and he and Tim took seats on the far side of the room while the two lawyers began to talk softly about the case. "You were head of a department?"
"Cybercrimes, yeah, for a few months while Mike Mikelson was recovering from surgery. Our team was split up...long story which is classified." Terry frowned at the sudden haunted expression in his eyes and making sure the other two weren't listening, he leant closer.
"Son...what is it?"
"I really can't talk about it, dad. I wish I could but it was highly classified."
Tim closed his eyes, pursed his lips together and nodded. "It was a bad couple of months. And ended worse."
"The mission failed?"
"No. We succeeded." Tim ducked his head and shook it. "I'm sorry dad. There's some things I can't tell you, and there will be things I can't tell you in the future. I'm on the MCR team. We deal with bad things...and a lot of it, because we're just Navy cops, doesn't even hit the news. We've taken down Terrorists, dad; not just Saleem. And no one knows."
"I do. Now." Terry sat back and put his hands in the pocket of his jacket, stretching his legs out in front of him to cross them at the ankles. "I let you down," he continued softly. "I don't want to do that again. You need to talk to me, you pick up the phone. You get in the car, or you ask me to come to you. And if you can't tell me details, then...just give me something so I understand what's going on. What's bad...how bad..."
"Got it." Tim nodded and smiled softly. "Thanks, dad. I can tell you this much, this time yesterday, I didn't think I'd be sitting here with you..."
Terry snorted and shook his head. "I know, son. Do you know your grandmother called me an arrogant prick? I swear, her tongue..." He trailed off and glanced at his son, to find him nodded emphatically.
"I know, dad. Believe me, I know. And to think; I used to wonder where Sarah got it from."
"It wasn't me..." Terry shook his head quickly and glanced at him when Tim added "Or mom."
"You talk to her lately?" He asked tentatively and Tim shook his head.
"I haven't talked to mom since I was a kid."
"Me either. So far as I know, she's still in DC; probably still shacking up with whatshisface."
Tim frowned, and realised he couldn't remember the name of his mother's boyfriend/leech either. Taking out his phone, he quickly sent a text off and shrugged. "Sarah'll remember. She's got a memory like an elephant. And a nose like one too. She still talks to Aunt Luce the odd time." He slipped his phone back into his pocket and spotted Jethro sitting patiently by the door. A snap of his fingers brought the German Shepherd to his side and he scrubbed his fingertips through the thick fur on his neck. By the time the two lawyers remembered they had company, Terry was crouched over in his seat, busy rubbing the dog's belly as he squirmed happily by his feet.
Rabb grinned when he spotted the Admiral happily petting the dog and nudged his partner who looked up and smirked. "Admiral, I think we can work with what we have. I'll contact Tyne's council and see what we can work out."
Terry nodded and got to his feet, impressed when Jethro immediately sat up at the doggy version of attention. "Good luck, Commander. Dennis is a good officer. I know he did hit Tyne, but he doesn't deserve to be discharged over this. A rap on his knuckles, maybe, but not that."
They sauntered out of the room to find a young man in uniform waiting for them. He quietly informed them that the Admiral would like a word with them, and Tim nodded when his father glanced at him for confirmation. "I have nothing to do, dad, unless I get called back."
Inside his office, AJ was sitting behind his desk, flicking absently through a folder. "Thanks for coming. Tyner; shoo." The young man nodded and shut the door behind him, leaving them alone. "You really just hacked the CIA?"
The following Monday morning, Tim hurried into the office at 8am, just ahead of Tony who was trying to flirt with one of the new TADs from Accounting. Gibbs was already at his desk, which was a surprise to no one, and he looked up as Tim slipped onto his seat and began to log-in to his computer.
"Everything go ok in Norfolk?" He asked curiously, and Tim looked up from his keyboard and nodded, a half-smile on his face.
"As well as can be expected, Boss. No blood was drawn, and...he...he shook my hand when I left. He..." He trailed off as Tony swanned into the bullpen but Gibbs gestured for him to continue. "He said he was proud of me, Boss. He's never..." He fell silent again and shook his head, letting out a soft sigh. "And I don't know if it is because I helped him with a case last week."
"Case? Do tell, Probie? I thought we were supposed to be on down-time." Tony called over, abandoning his own attempt to remember his password.
"Just an assault case between two men under my father's command. They didn't think that the victim was hurt as badly as he said. I managed to give them proof and evidence to the contrary."
"All of it, McGee; is this something that could come back and bite you in the ass?" Gibbs asked with his usual brusqueness. Tim shook his head.
"No sir. There was heavy bruising to his abdomen, but the witness accounts and surveillance footage from the bar told a different story; the guy wasn't hit as hard as he said he was. Just a tap to the stomach; probably lighter than your wake-up taps, boss, from the looks of it. When dad saw the hyperpigmentation on my back, he freaked. I explained what it was, and he put two and two together. That's why I went down to Norfolk with him, so we could talk to JAG and show the defence my back as proof. Then I realised the CIA was hacking into one of the JAG lawyers computers, so I traced it back – with the Deputy Director of the CIA's approval – and gave them the evidence from that. Me and dad spent the rest of the week catching up and talking with the Lawyers."
Tony shrugged and went back to his computer, but Gibbs's quiet 'What is hyperpigmentation?' drew him back to the conversation, quickly joined by Ziva as she dumped her bag at her desk and came over to see what was going on.
"Hyperpigmentation, Boss, it's when...say you get a really bad bruise, and it stays...basically." Suddenly he was tongue-tied as he fell under the scrutiny of his team and he shook his head, trying to get his thoughts back in order. "The darker the skin, the more likely it can happen. It's caused by inflammation. A few studies have suggested that it is caused when the skin is injured...basically, things happen, and it looks like the bruises are still there, just kind of brownish – like when it's in the last stages of healing and the other colouring; the blacks, yellows and purples are gone. It takes years for it all to fade."
"And yours is from?" Gibbs asked pointedly, but it was Tony that answered for him.
"Somalia. Right, McGee?" His eyes were dark, and he folded his arms tightly across his chest. "I thought you said you were fine. They didn't touch you."
"I was fine in comparison to Ziva. And I never said they didn't touch me! - Boss!" Tim yelped as Gibbs grabbed his arm and propelled him across the floor towards the elevator. Tony and Ziva shared a look but got to it too late as the doors closed in their faces. A hasty dash down the stairs got them to autopsy just behind a protesting McGee and an icy-eyed Gibbs and Ducky looked up in wonderment as McGee was propelled into the centre of the room.
"Duck; Hyperpigmentation." Gibbs barked, and Ducky put down a scalpel he'd been cleaning.
"What about it?"
In answer, Gibbs stripped McGee's coat from his back and began unbuttoning the shirt, ignoring McGee's protests and attempts to stop him. "Boss! I can unbutton my own shirt and the Doctors at Bethesda said-"
"Doctors?" Ducky was suddenly all ears and Tim finally batted Gibbs's hands away and stepped back, a warning look on his face. "What doctors? Why were you at Bethesda, Timothy? Is there something- oh my..." He trailed off as Tim finished unbuttoning his shirt and turned around to show them the faux-bruises.
"Yes, it's from Somalia, Tony. And yes, I wasn't just 'lying there'. They had a go at me before they started questioning you. And it will fade, and no, it doesn't hurt anymore." He huffed as Tony's face went white at the sight.
Ziva was another story, and her face crumpled as tears sprang into her eyes. "Ziva, don't cry. It's ok, I'm ok, and I'd have lost my eyes, my arms, my legs, anything to get you free." Tim tried to assure her. "It was just bruising. Just a few bruises...please, don't cry."
"I'm not crying!" She managed to blurt out, and hurriedly swiped at her eyes. "I'm not. But McGee-"
"No buts, Ziva. I'm ok."
"Duck?" Gibbs asked softly as Tim tried to halt the progression of tears down her face.
"Hyperpigmentation of the skin due to bruising." Ducky murmured just as softly. "It is quite a rare occurrence, especially in someone with skin as fair as Timothy's. But with bruising that severe, he would be carrying himself quite carefully, and as we can see, he has full range of motion. I can assure you, though, he would have had damage to his ribs from the force of blows that caused that kind of discolouration of the skin. It happened in Somalia..." He frowned and pursed his lips together thoughtfully. "Some marks are from boots, and others...I would say batteries, or some other form of hard material in a sock. Some kind of electrical cord...you can see where the marks from the plug pins were. Judging from what I can see now, he is very lucky they did not break his spine."
Tony paled even further and closed his eyes, picturing Tim lying on the ground back in the cell again. There was nothing, barely even a wince to show he'd been hurt. "He didn't show it. Even when we got back there was nothing to show..." He shook his head and Gibbs shook his head.
"He was hiding it well, DiNozzo; I didn't even see it."
"Not hiding; it just wasn't the time or the place to be going on about me." Tim murmured, turning his head so he could see them over Ziva's. He was holding her in a hug, and his eyes were sad. "I didn't want her...there should be no guilt from Somalia. No recriminations, no accusations, and absolutely no behaviour that makes Ziva act like this. I wanted our Ninja Girl back. What happened to me and Tony was only a drop in the bucket compared to what went on while they had her. It's not important, Boss."
"I took you for an intelligent person, McGee; don't prove me wrong." Gibbs half-growled, and his eyes narrowed when he spotted Tim's eyes roll before they were hidden by his eyelids. "Everybody on this team is important. What if you'd-"
"Told the medics exactly what had happened; and explained it all to the Doctors at Bethesda when we got there, gotten x-rays and an MRI to make sure there was no internal bleeding or damage to my spine, and then followed up with them again when the bruising didn't fade?" He asked pointedly. "I'm not an idiot, Boss. I took care of it. I'm used to taking care of things for myself. And Sarah." He added as an afterthought. "At the time, Ziva, you were more important than anything else in the world." He moved back a little and gripped her chin tightly, making her look up at him. "And like I said; I'd do it all over again to make you safe; and to keep you safe. I know we all would."
"You got that right." Tony chimed in, uncharacteristically serious. "And McGee...Tim, you know that if it had been you in her place, we'd have done the same. Right?"
Tim's face brightened in a half-grin and he nodded. "Yeah, Tony. I know. Can we please get back to work now? I'm not hurt-"
"What the hell!" Vance's outburst from the door made Tim's shoulders sag and he below out a long breath, closing his eyes as he reached to yank his shirt out of Tony's hands.
"Not hurt; previous injury and I'm not going through this again; show and tell is over! I already had to explain it to my dad, two JAG lawyers, Admiral Chegwidden, Penelope, Sarah and then two more JAG lawyers and a Judge!" He nodded to the Director and hurried from the room, his cheeks flaming red.
"Small muscles, big brains, heart of a lion and he's still got the embarrassment level of a six year old girl." Tony shook his head wryly and picked up McGee's jacket, heading after him. Ziva was on his heels, leaving Gibbs and Ducky leaning against one of the autopsy tables.
"Does somebody please want to explain what's going on?" Vance asked pointedly, and Gibbs shrugged.
"Timothy was injured in Somalia far more seriously than we had previously known." Ducky murmured. "The bruising you saw as you entered the room is a left-over of a vicious beating he took while being questioned. I believe it was before they moved on to Tony to administer the truth serum. None of us knew."
"Did he at least-"
"Said he went to Bethesda; got x-rays, MRIs...everything." Gibbs shrugged, his eyes slightly troubled. In truth, he was pissed that he hadn't known. Hadn't seen the pain in the young man's eyes.
"And his comment about JAG?" Vance pressed on, and he and Ducky turned to Gibbs.
"He talked to his father for the first time in seven years last week. I get the impression they've mended broken bridges. His father saw what you just saw, and was able to make a connection to a case regarding a man under his command. JAG used the information he could get them...and he also helped stop them being infiltrated by the CIA. With Deputy Director Webb's permission, apparently."
Vance frowned but remembered a message on his desk about calling Webb later that day. "Ok..." he turned on his heel and walked away, looking slightly nonplussed