He's My Hero
Summary: A family gathers around the bedside of their hero to say goodbye.
Timeline: season 11 of NCIS and sort of post-AU series for BtVS.
Warning: Fairly big change in Gibbs' backstory. Probably will be a two-three tissue ficlet…or maybe it's just me.
A/N: I will fully admit that this is a semi-self-insert in that I used stories of my own and my friends for the bedside reminiscing. I changed my original plot from George Hammond to Jackson Gibbs after Waite's passing (because I think my father looked a lot like Ralph Waite). I meant to get this finished right after he died, but didn't get the inspiration until last night.
Thanks to my betas: DeepBlueJoy helped me come up with the idea last summer and JacobPhoenix helped me decide on the major NCIS canon change mentioned.
Disclaimer: BtVS/AtS characters belong to Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. I claim no rights to any copyrighted material. Please do not copy or take this story without my permission.
They were lucky that Jackson had a double room without having a roommate because by the time the whole family was in there, it was pretty cozy. By that time, the pain medicine wore off just enough to let him wake up without allowing the pain to interfere with his personality too much.
"Who went to Doug's for the corned beef sandwiches?" Jackson asked with a raspy voice.
Gibbs answered, "I did, Pop. Buffy said you wanted something decent to eat." It was legendary in the family that Jackson's favorite meal was a corned beef sandwich. Even when given the choice between that and a meal at a fancy restaurant, he'd always pick the sandwich…much to his wife's bemusement at times like their anniversary.
Fortunately, Doug's served all kinds of sandwiches that the family Loved with a capital L. While they 'made do' with Subway or Quiznos (or other chain stores) in the towns that they lived, whenever they came back to Stillwater, it was a tradition to have Doug's for at least one of their dinners – even if it happened during their Thanksgiving or Christmas visits.
Jackson looked around his hospital room with a bittersweet sense of joy. His family – both blood and otherwise – was surrounding him with love and attention, however the family reunion was because of his recent diagnosis of stomach cancer. Not the happiest reason for a family get-together, in his opinion. Still, he had faced worse things than this before, so he wasn't about to give up now.
Lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice that everyone started eating. Another glance around the room and his eyes landed on the person giving the latest 'I remember Jackson/Dad' story…his incredible sister-in-law, Dawn. If Jethro thought he caused the most havoc in his life, he may or may not be stunned to find out he was beaten by the two most important women to him – at least those over the age of 50.
"Shortly after Jackson and Buffy got married, I had a little pregnancy scare and the guy who made that scare possible turned out to be a creep. I was so terrified because back then a single mom was pretty much shunned even if she was a widow, much less a 'person of loose morals' like me. I knew that Buffy wouldn't be mad at me or anything, but we were finally at a place where I felt like she didn't need to protect me anymore and telling her about this would screw that up. But I needed somebody to confide in, so I cornered Jackson."
She smiled fondly in his direction, then continued, "Poor guy didn't know how to handle a weeping woman back then, but he was so understanding and kind to me. He just held me without any sense of judgment. Told me that I wouldn't be alone no matter what happened. That moment made me realize that my sister had the greatest guy in the universe, and that I was going to have to find my own Jackson, too," Dawn finished, leaning into the embrace of her husband, who wasn't actually named Jackson, but was the greatest guy in Dawn's universe.
Her little story caused Jackson to flashback to the day he met the Summers sisters.
Start of flashback
It was in 1969, and he was at a USO in DC where he was acting as a bouncer of sorts to handle the soldiers set to deploy to Vietnam. The easiest way to do that without being offensive was to mingle with the crowd. He wasn't exactly a guy who had to beat girls off, but he wasn't repulsive either. That meant he didn't have a hard time finding girls to dance with during the night. But there was one girl in particular that he wanted to dance with, except he couldn't get close enough to ask her.
He was helped when another girl had some trouble with an over-amorous partner.
"C'mon! I'm leaving tomorrow and want a last night of fun," he heard the creep complain as he manhandled the young lady. "It's not as if you're really here just to dance with us!" he said in a leering manner, probably making her feel like a hooker or something.
That was enough to spur Jackson into action. He quickly went over and yanked the man away from his victim, and just in time, too…for the man. If he had been just a second or two later, the girl's knee would have connected with a very sensitive area that would solve the problem of him being amorous for a few hours to come.
"Hey!" she exclaimed in frustration before realizing that the new guy had actually been trying to help her. She was about to say something when the woman Jackson was interested in appeared at the brunette's side.
"You okay?" she asked in concern.
The brunette rolled her eyes and answered, "Yeah. I was taking care of the jerk myself, but this guy was nice enough to come over to protect me…even though I didn't need his help," she added in Jackson's direction, but smiled as she said so to tell him nonverbally that she wasn't upset with him.
"Thanks," the women said together before the older one went on, "I'm Buffy and this is my sister, Dawn."
Jackson tipped his head, almost reaching for a nonexistent hat as he replied, "Name's Jackson Gibbs. Glad to oblige, even if it wasn't strictly necessary," he added for Dawn's benefit.
"Ooo, a southern gentleman!" Dawn cooed excitedly, much to Jackson's bemusement.
Buffy saw it and couldn't help but add her own teasing, "It's your own fault for having that adorable drawl."
He wasn't sure how much of a drawl he had seeing as how he was from Virginia. Still, he had Buffy where he wanted her and wasn't about to give up his chance to spend time with her. "May I buy you ladies a drink?"
"Two rum and cokes, hold the rum on Dawn's," Buffy answered with a bright smile.
Jackson almost bounced to the bar when he overheard Buffy say to Dawn as he was walking away, "He's cute!"
Needless to say, he got his dance with Buffy by the end of the night, as well as a couple others. He also managed to get her address so they could write letters.
Over the next couple years, those letters kept him sane when Jethro grew more and more distant with him. Unfortunately, the same letters caused the rift between them to grow even wider because his son believed he was being unfaithful to the memory of his late wife by getting involved – even just through letters – with another woman.
Finally came the time when he got the courage to go up to Baltimore to visit her and Dawn. He hadn't meant to beforehand, but as soon as he saw Buffy again, he proposed immediately – much to her surprise and happiness.
End of flashback
A burst of laughter knocked Jackson out of his reminiscing. Apparently they had moved on to the topic of his car purchasing habits when he was younger and not as financially secure.
"What about the time when Dad decided to make Carl an El Camino out of a Ford station wagon?" his oldest child with Buffy, Cindy, asked.
Tony DiNozzo looked both confused and amused by the headline of the story. "What? How did he do that?" he wondered aloud with a grin at the senior Gibbs.
As much as he'd like to stop this story, Jackson knew it would be futile.
Carl, his second son, took over the storytelling. "El Caminos were the car to have in our town when I was in high school, but Dad said he wasn't buying me a new car and there weren't any used ones for sale at the time. After a little while, he said he had the perfect compromise for me. He bought a station wagon, then used power saws to cut off the roof from the back end. The problem came with enclosing the back seat area.
"He used the scrap metal that he cut off and welded it in place. Then he used the back window of the part he cut off as the part we looked through. Sure, it technically worked, but it was hideous to look at. For weeks I got teased by everyone at school. But then Mom and Aunt Dawn had the idea of painting designs over the ugly seams that made it look cool. Suddenly everyone else was painting their cars in similar ways," Carl finished with a smile.
Even though there was a fondness to the tone of the story, Buffy still felt like she had to defend Jackson for not spending the money on a new vehicle for any of their kids. But her voice was soft and loving when she explained, "The reason that your Dad has never bought new vehicles is because he sets aside that amount each month – the average amount of a car payment for the kind of car that we drive – and uses it to help various charities like soup kitchens or the widows/orphans of vets, or even just somebody he sees in need." She looked over at her husband and smiled at his irritated face. She knew she wasn't supposed to say anything.
All the kids looked shocked at her announcement. "Why didn't you tell us? We wouldn't have complained so much if we had known! We would have chipped in! What a cool idea!" They all exclaimed together.
Even Gibbs looked stunned at the news, though he was far better at controlling his reactions than his half-siblings. It seemed as if the man he drifted apart from over the years wasn't the man he thought he was. But he had to admit that he was an angry young man when it began, and he allowed his romanticized image of his mother to place most of the blame on his dad for the troubles in their marriage – which spilled over into resenting Buffy when she came along years later.
When he married Shannon, she tried to get him to make up with them, but Jackson and Buffy had started their family by that point and deep down he felt that his father had replaced him with his half-brother and three half-sisters…as well as with Dawn. It also didn't help that Buffy was so much younger than his dad. So he kept an emotional distance from the family and barely kept in contact after Shannon died. That was something he regretted now that he was older – especially since he felt like a stranger among them most of the time when he visited in recent years.
Amazingly, his family didn't seem to hold it against him too much. What he didn't know was that whenever they tried to badmouth him in the past, both Buffy and Dawn defended his choices to them and kept the family from forgetting that he existed.
His thoughts were interrupted by the wistful reminiscing of his youngest half-sibling, Louisa. She was the only one of the kids who stayed in Stillwater after graduating high school. Chances were that the store would be hers when Jackson was convinced to give it up – assuming it wasn't already; Gibbs hadn't asked when he came back a few years earlier. "I was so excited when Daddy felt I was finally old enough to help out in the store in more than just a stocking/cleaning up kind of way. I was the only living at home by then and he told me that he needed somebody he could trust to take care of the store so he could finally take Mom on the honeymoon she deserved but they never got to take when they first got married."
"If I had known that she would choose New York City, I may have changed my mind," Jackson mock- complained, smiling at his bride of 40 years to make it clear that he would have lived in NYC if it had made her happy.
Buffy smiled right back and said, "You didn't seem to mind when we went to the Yankee game."
He just waved dismissively at her and took another tiny bite of his sandwich. The fact that he only ate a couple inches of the sub reminded everyone that he was sick. The truth was that he didn't feel much like eating, but this was his last meal before the surgery in the morning, so he tried to eat as much as possible for his family's sake.
The storytelling went on for another hour before his pain got to the point where he needed more medicine, which knocked him out for the rest of the evening.
The next day…
Most of the family spent several hours dominating the surgery waiting room while Jackson was in surgery. The grandchildren were at the house with a couple of the adults rotating out to watch them. Every couple hours or so, somebody came out to give them an update on how he was doing…which then was immediately updated on people's Facebook pages and Jackson's CaringBridge page for the family and friends that couldn't be there.
Unfortunately, there was a complication when the doctors discovered the cancer had damaged Jackson's stomach and intestines more than they hoped, so the surgery went longer than expected. But finally, late in the afternoon – more like early in the evening – they got word that he was in recovery. The doctors weren't giving odds on his survival either way, so they'd just have to take it one day at a time…or one hour at a time for the first few days.
Once he was back in his room, the family took turns sitting with him. They weren't expecting poignant conversations with him or anything; they just wanted him to know he wasn't alone. As long as they weren't disruptive, they were allowed to stay even after visiting hours – a nod to Buffy's years as a nurse at that very hospital for most of her marriage to Jackson.
During one of Jackson's awake moments, it was just him and the former Summers sisters. He was just out of it enough to speak freely about how they had come into his world. "It might have been the worst thing to happen to you back in your own world, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glad that portal brought you into mine," he rasped out from his bed with a loving look at Buffy.
"This is our world just as much as the old one," Buffy assured him. She knew that he could never understand that she was totally happy to be here with him and every once in a while worried that she might have been happier on her past life without him.
Dawn nodded and said, "Probably even more so since we've lived longer in this one than we did in the other one."
Buffy leaned over and kissed her husband gently on the cheek. "Never think that I have any regrets about falling into that hellbitch's portal and landing in a parallel Earth three decades in the past without my Slayer powers. Any problems we had when we first arrived have been seriously overshadowed by all the joy we've had since then."
Chuckling softly, Dawn added in a teasing manner, "Yeah, even if Buffy didn't manage to do the stupid thing and find a way to save me by sacrificing herself in my place, it turned out for the best – at least for us."
"Well, stupid tower, built by crazy people…tipping over into the portal before I could get you to safety," Buffy groused half-heartedly. She wouldn't have chosen for Dawn to fall in with her since they didn't know where they'd end up, but she was glad her sister was with her in their new lives free from supernatural evil.
Once they realized that Buffy wasn't the Slayer anymore and that this world didn't have demons, they started to make plans for how to support themselves. Fortunately they landed far enough in the past that creating a paper trail for themselves wasn't as difficult as a task at it would have been in their own time.
Given her choices of professions available to her at the time, Buffy settled on training to be a nurse. She probably would have hurt somebody if she had to be a secretary or teacher, and being a waitress for the rest of her life was out as well – although she did that for a few years to help support them while she trained to be a nurse and Dawn graduated high school, then got her own job.
By the time she married Jackson, she had finished her LPN training. With his support, she went on to become an RN. Over time, she even became one of the head nurses at this hospital. When Jethro came back into their lives, she had just retired and was helping Jackson and Louisa in the store.
After the store was destroyed by the drug cartel people, the family descended and got it rebuilt within a month. Then Jackson officially handed the deed and keys over to Louisa, finishing the changeover that was slowly building for the last decade and a half or so.
A couple days later…
After they thought the danger had passed, Gibbs went back to NCIS to catch up on some paperwork so he could take more time off to help out in Stillwater during his dad's recovery. He spent several hours in the office once he got back that morning and had just fallen asleep when he was woken from his light slumber by his cell phone's ringing. When he answered, he heard Dawn's stricken voice, "Jackson's gone, Jethro. His heart gave out and they tried resuscitating him a few times, but Buffy said after the third time that it was enough and to let him go."
"He told us he didn't want to be kept alive by machines," Gibbs said, reminding her of a conversation they had shortly before the surgery with all the 'kids' (his brother and sisters) and Dawn, and he figured that if they had to keep bringing him back, that would be inevitable. At least he got to spend his last few days surrounded by his family.
"I know he fought in the war so he's officially a hero and everything," Dawn said as her tears started, "but he was my hero because of the day-to-day loving – albeit gruff at times – manner he shared with us all. He saved my sister from thinking she didn't deserve happiness because of some sucky relationships in her past, so yeah, he's my hero!"
A/N: That proclamation felt like the right place to stop. Hopefully I covered most of the big questions people would have.