Tuesday Morning, USS Carl Vinson, off the coast of San Diego, California
Normally, this would be a discussion between captain and subordinate, but Matthew Cline had resisted all nudges to move up one more time before retirement and he'd been the Air Boss aboard the Vinson since John had made admiral, the mini-boss on the last ship he'd captained.
"Matt, we've known each other a long time. You've more than earned this promotion."
"Yes, Sir. I realize that, Sir."
John glanced down at the time. He had a video conference in less than fifteen minutes. "Then what's the problem? You've got your retirement to think about."
"Permission to speak freely, Sir?"
If there was anyone aboard the ship that had earned that right, it was Matthew Cline. "Of course."
"Next step up I take, that's going to put me in a desk somewhere, probably on land."
Patting the polished mahogany of his own desk, John smiled. "Nothing wrong with that."
"No, there's not, but it's not where I need to be. It's not the best use of my skills, Sir." From up in Admiral McGee's private office on the flag deck there was a good view of the various planes landing and taking off from the flight deck and Cline watched that for a moment, obviously gathering his thoughts. Finally he turned back and squared his shoulders. "Since I became the Air Boss, the Carl Vinson has had the best safety record of every carrier in the fleet. I take care of my boys, both on the deck and up in the air. That's what I'm good at and those couple of hundred dollars a month I'd get from retiring at a higher rank isn't worth walking away from that. Rosie and I will be just fine if I retire as a commander instead of a captain."
"What is it we tell the new recruits? Be all they can be? Be the best? This is what I'm best at."
The other man had a point. "All right, I'll pass your request along and also my agreement. I know Captain Stanley will be happy to have you aboard for another two years."
"Thank you, Admiral McGee, sir." Slipping back into the more formal protocols, Cline stepped back and saluted before turning and leaving John alone with his thoughts.
Timothy was on his mind once again, the conversation with Cline bringing up one of the last arguments they'd had before the years of not speaking.
"Don't you get it, Dad? This is what I'm good at. I track down terrorists and murderers, anything and anyone that can hurt the Navy. A lot of what I do – I'm the only one in the entire agency that can do it. Why would I walk away from that to fill a hole that has dozens of people that could fill it?"
"At least in the Navy you'll have opportunities to advance. Think of your future, Timothy. Twenty years from now they'll hand you a gold plated watch and a lousy pension."
"And the knowledge that I helped a lot of people, Dad."
Leaning heavily on his elbows, John rubbed his forehead before forcing down the doubts and the questions. It was time for his conference call.
Always keep them nervous and on their toes. That was the best piece of advice he'd ever gotten from his father, the senior Admiral McGee, so he casually and slowly looked over the report in his hand before raising his eyes to the squirming lieutenant standing in front of his desk. "Yes?"
Lieutenant White usually wasn't bothered too much by the usual drill, but he looked like he wasn't sure how the Admiral would take this piece of news. "I've been doing weekly checks on your son as you asked. That big, inter-branch raid a few days ago?" White waited until the Admiral nodded. "He... umm, your son, he was apparently one of the architects of the raid and was setting that up while he was out on leave. According to my source, he was the one that broke the whole thing open."
"Really?" That piece of news garnered the Admiral's full attention.
The details were still very hush-hush, but everyone with connections in the Navy knew that some serious weaponry had been stolen, a massive string of thefts that had hit pretty much every branch of the military. Rumors about the raid were flying fast and furious, but no one outside the task force had been given any detailed information. "So, he's back at work now? Was his leave a ruse to cover his part of the investigation?"
The squirm and twitch of the side of White's face told his answer before he opened his mouth. "That I couldn't find out, Admiral McGee, sir, but I was able to confirm that he was injured during one of the raids."
"Injured? Injured how? Was he shot?"
"I'm sorry, Sir, since he's a civilian I wasn't able to access his medical records, just the incident report from the responding Army medics. They reported that your son was thrown out of one of the eighth floor windows."
John felt the breath catch in his chest as he straightened even past the ramrod straight posture he was known for. "Thrown out... are you telling me that my son is dead?"
"No! I mean, no sir, Admiral McGee. I was able to confirm that he was taken by ambulance to Bethesda Medical. Then he left AMA the next day."
Quickly stacking the rest of the files on his desk, the Admiral pulled up his schedule on his computer. Other than the ship tour and dinner tonight with Senator Wilson, everything on it was vital, but would survive a short delay over the weekend. "Lieutenant White, reschedule all of my Friday calls and meeting for next week and get me on a flight to DC. I want to be there first thing in the morning."
Standing to dismiss the other man, the Admiral turned toward the window. "Excellent. Barring anything unforeseen, I will return Sunday night."
He heard, but didn't acknowledge, the retreat of his lieutenant. Staring out the window of the flag bridge, he remembered several heated discussions he'd had with his mother since Timothy had joined NCIS. He'd been convinced his son was throwing his life away while Penny accused him of refusing to see the man he'd become. Perhaps it was time to see which one of them was right.
Still considering taking one more personal day to stay here, Gibbs watched carefully as McGee gingerly walked out of the bathroom, fully dressed. He decided not to call him on the fact that he was wearing a very baggy shirt and slip-on shoes. "You sure you're going to be all right on your own today?"
"Yeah, we'll be fine."
"All right. Tia's clothes are all laid out for her so you don't have to reach up and if you need help, Maggie said she could come down. Jackie, too. You're going to take it easy, right?"
The coffee was already made, so Tim poured himself a cup, not bothering to add anything to it, as Gibbs handed him a pain pill. "Sure, probably go get some groceries later on."
Gibbs stepped in front of him, pressing a finger across his lips as he shook his head. "Nope. You're not driving, you're not lifting anything – not until you've been cleared by Ducky and I know that's not happening for a couple more days. You order them online and I'll pick them up tonight." Tim looked disappointed and Gibbs smiled before kissing his forehead. He knew how much the other man enjoyed personally picking out the produce. "You can fondle tomatoes next week."
Busted, Tim sighed even as he enjoyed the tenderness. "Yeah, okay. Maybe we'll take a walk around the park if it warms up today or just sit on the porch."
Another kiss to his forehead, the warm lips turning up in a smile. "That's more like it."
Having his aide along to handle things would have made the trip easier, but this was a family matter. Snapping his fingers got him a Navy vehicle and driver, but he wanted a strange petty officer under foot even less than his own lieutenant so he had the driver drop him off at a rental agency. Now with the address, courtesy of Lieutenant White, programmed into the on-board GPS, he was on his way.
The navigation system delivered him to a neighborhood of small but comfortable single family homes, which was a surprise. He'd been glad to see that his son had moved out of an apartment, but a condo or townhouse would be a much better fit for a single man with a demanding career.
Parking, Admiral McGee locked the car and carefully placed his cover on his head before tugging his sleeves into place and walking up the step. Once up on the porch he removed his cover, securing it under his arm before he rang the bell and stood at perfect attention.
A barking dog was the first sign of anyone home, a big dog by the deepness of the bark and John felt an eyebrow raise up ever so slightly. Timothy has a dog? The thought that he had been given an incorrect address crossed his mind before he heard a familiar voice telling 'Jethro' to hush. The dog instantly silenced, showing he was well trained, another surprise.
The door opened and he was face to face with the son he hadn't seen in over seven years.
Despite the recent injuries, time had been kind to him. Slimmer in the waist and broader in the shoulders since the last time, he looked even more like a younger version of John. Looking carefully, he saw the bruised and scraped face, the sling that supported his right arm, the brace on his left wrist and the rigid way Tim held his body and he subconsciously reverted back to his training to hide his shock.
"Timothy, why did you leave the hospital?"
Tim stared at him, but before he could answer, footsteps could be heard behind him.
"Daddy, Daddy, I got dressed all by myself."
When Tim stepped back and turned, John had to bite back a gasp. A little girl, no more than four or five, was standing in the living room, mostly dressed, even though there was something odd about the shirt she was wearing. Sure enough, Tim bent down, wincing as he did, and tapped her chest.
"Where's the princess?"
She looked down at herself, then looked up and grinned. "I got it on backwards."
"You want Daddy to help you or do you want to try it again?"
"I can do it." Still grinning, her bright white teeth shining against her richly colored skin, she ran back down the hallway and Tim turned once again to face him.
"You're a father? You got married without telling any of the family? That's why you were out on leave?" Since Tim had stepped back to take care of his daughter, John used the opportunity to come inside the house and close the door behind him. Tim didn't object, but he didn't look all that happy either, but considering his injuries, it might just be the pain he was obviously in. "Did you think your mother or I wouldn't approve of you marrying a black woman?"
Tim slowly straightened up to face his father. "I was out on bereavement leave, Admiral. Grace died a little over a month ago and now I'm a single father."
There was only one Grace that he associated with his son. "Grace? Grace Miller? You had a child with Grace Miller?" Dropping his voice, he leaned closer. "But she was a lesbian."
Timothy's expression reminded him of Penny's when she argued with him. "Plumbing still worked, Sir. Why are you here?"
John had waited over thirty years for his son to grow a backbone, but the boy had picked a lousy time to do it. Flustered, he waved his arms around, almost dropping his cover in the process. "You got thrown out of a window on the eighth floor."
"I bounced." Tim stared at him a moment longer before rolling his eyes. "I landed on the roof of the next building so I only fell about two stories."
"You left the hospital AMA."
"Yeah, well, my daughter lost her mother, then my very first full day back at work, I fell out of a building. I didn't want to scare her."
"You needed medical care."
"I got medical care. They popped my shoulder back in, stitched up my head, made sure my broken ribs were stable, set my arm, taped up my fingers, braced my wrists, monitored the internal bleeding until it stopped and observed the concussion."
John stared at him. Tim was a computer specialist. Despite what others thought, he did understand how gifted Tim was with technology. In the Navy he would have shot up the ranks specializing in cyber-warfare. As a civilian he should have been a desk jockey, not out in the field, not like this. "I've been in the Navy since before you were born, been on more combat tours than I can count and I've never been hurt like that."
Tim shrugged and walked back toward the kitchen where a coffee mug was sitting on the counter and John followed him, listening. "I've been hurt worse, this time it was just a bunch of injuries."
Tim pointed at a cupboard and when he opened it he found a row of coffee mugs. Fixing himself a cup of coffee gave him something to do, just for a moment. The 'hurt worse' he filed away for later, but he could understand the idea of it being a bunch of injuries that added up – almost. "Tell me that you're at least following up with a doctor from Bethesda."
"Nah, Ducky's taking care of me."
"Our Medical Examiner."
"Medical Examiner?" He almost sloshed the coffee out of the pot when he set it back down. "You're getting medical care from a coroner? He does remember that you're supposed to have a pulse, right?"
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. "Dr. Mallard is a respected physician in addition to being a world renowned medical examiner. He took care of me after I was mauled by a dog. He took care of me the last time I dislocated my shoulder and he would have taken care of me after I was blown up, but he was in the hospital himself. I trust his judgment; our entire agency trusts his judgment."
"I see." Admiral McGee took a deep breath and loosened his grip on his mug. "Well then, I suppose this 'Ducky' deserves my thanks for taking such good care of you."
"Grandpa Ducky always takes care of us."
Timothy's daughter bounced in to join them in the kitchen, a large German Shepard practically glued to her side. Timothy's daughter... good lord, he was a grandfather – a grandfather. He turned and looked at her a little closer. Her shirt was on correctly now, an ebony-skinned Disney princess holding a frog and surrounded by flowers was on the front. He was about to ask her about it but her next words threw him for even more of a loop.
"Grandpa Ducky and Papa take good care of us."
"Yes, Papa." There was more than a little challenge in Timothy's eyes and John gulped down most of his coffee to cover his shock.
Finally he set the cup down and picked up his cover from where he'd set it on the counter. "I see. Well, since everything is obviously under control, I will return to my post. Good day, Timothy."
He made it almost to the front door when a little hand took his. "Daddy's fingers don't work too good right now. Can you tie my shoes before you go home?"
Admiral John McGee was many things, but when it came to little girls, he was no ass. He took a deep breath and forced a smile on his face. "Of course."
"Goody, I'll go get them."
She ran back toward what he assumed was her room, leaving him to stand in the living room, looking around. Grudgingly, he had to admit to himself that it was a pleasant, comfortable home. "It's a nice place."
"What? Oh, thank you." The compliment appeared to have thrown Tim for a loop, which made him feel a little better. No reason for him to be the only one floundering here.
Small talk was, occasionally, part of the job so he kept going. "You buying or renting?"
"Renting for now. Grace... it was very quick in the end, so I didn't have a lot of time. The team actually moved me out of the apartment and into here while I collected Tiana and brought her back with me."
"Tiana? That's a pretty name. Are you going to officially introduce us?"
"I thought you were on your way back to your ship. Don't you always hide on your ship when your family might need you?"
There was hurt and challenge in that statement and John never backed down from a challenge. Dropping his cover back down on the back of the sofa, he crossed his arms. "I'm here until Sunday night. Past that, I'll need a change of ship's itinerary authorized by the SecNav."
Tia was back with her favorite sparkly light-up tennis shoes. Tim sighed and John knew he'd won this round. "Tia, sweetheart, let me introduce you, all right. This is my father, Admiral John McGee. Sir, this is Tiana Caitlin McGee, my daughter."
The Admiral was ready to give a formal nod of his head, but Tia was talking almost instantly. "You're my daddy's daddy? I have another grandpa?"
"I am your daddy's father. I think he's a bit too old to call me Daddy anymore." Much to his surprise, Tiana shook her head.
"I'm never going to be too old to call my daddy, Daddy. Even when I'm as old as Grandma Maggie, he's still going to be my daddy."
Shocked, John found himself backpedaling. "Well, little girls can do that. Now, let's get your shoes tied." She climbed up onto the sofa and he briskly and efficiently tied the first shoe, but Tiana shook her head again.
"You didn't tie it right."
John blinked in surprise once again. He was an Admiral, people don't tell him he's wrong very often. "Young lady, I'll have you know that I've been tying a proper Navy bow since before your father was even born."
"But you have to sing the song."
"The song?" John let out a long sigh, deliberately ignoring his son, who he knew was grinning up a storm behind him. "I'm an Admiral, I do not sing. Why don't you sing it to me while I tie your other shoe?"
"Okey-dokey, artichokie." She grinned and started to sing about the hopping bunny ears and the dancing hands, but John was remembering when Tim was three and that was his answer to everything. Okey-dokey, artichokie – it had made his commanding officers smile during the family tour, but John had watched the older children and been mortified by his own son's childish behavior. Eighteen months later, Timothy had stood ramrod straight, only spoke when spoken to, and knew how to properly shake hands. He'd also stopped calling John, Daddy.
Shoes tied and song sung, Tiana skipped back to her room to pick out a hair accessory. John watched her leave before looking over at his son. "They grow up fast."
Tim had a sad expression on his face. "They don't have to. Not that fast. She'll grow up, yes, but at her own speed and I'm going to cherish every moment along the way."
"It was for the greater good, Timothy."
"Whose greater good, Admiral? Was sacrificing my childhood worth making admiral six months earlier than Grandpa did? You used to tell me that I'd understand when I was older. Well, I'm older now, I'm a father, and there's no career perk that's worth sacrificing one day of my daughter's childhood."
John didn't know what to say.
"Why are you here, Dad?"
"You were hurt."
"I've been hurt before and you never even called, let alone fly across the country. Why are you here?"
He started to lie, then shook his head. "I don't know."
The conversation was halted when Tiana returned with a hair bow. Her hair was already tied up and John bit his lip while he watched Tim painfully clip it in place. It was early enough on the East coast that he suspected they hadn't had breakfast yet. Before he could make a decision as to whether to offer to take them out, Tim moved into the kitchen.