Men have the habit of falling in love with the same woman, over and over again. from Murder by Moonlight
From the first day that he met her, Gibbs told himself that he was not going to be this kind of a man. Not the kind of man who made the same mistake over and over again. Not the kind of man who looked at a familiar trap, studied it, grew to know every inch of it and then fell inside anyway. By his age, he ought to know better, he ought to know something, some trick to stop this from happening. But, from the first second he had looked at Kinsey, long and tall and beautiful, he had known that he was going to make a liar out of himself again. After all, he had so much practice.
On the surface, Gibbs knew that he didn't look like a fool. His father had raised him to be a man, and the Marines had finished the teaching, and neither of those two formidable forces would have bothered if they had thought he was anything less than he appeared to be. No, it was a redheaded girl who had taught him to be stupid, and he had been relearning the lesson for the rest of his life. Redheads, he reflected, had been his Achilles' heel long before he had ever read The Iliad or thought of that single, sharp arrow that had taken such a great warrior down.
The first redhead had been way back in junior high. Lisa. Not much on looks, if he was going to be honest, but her hair had been a true red and she wore it loose so that it fell halfway down her back. Of a height with him, she would walk down the hall, books clutched to her chest, giggling with the Korean girls who were her best friends, and he would just stare, entranced. She never remembered to do her math homework and young Jethro, (Leroy was his father and Jethro was always just Jethro and glad of it) made stupid for the first time in his life by red hair and cream-colored skin dusted gold with freckles, would slide his over without a word during homeroom. He never got the guts to ask her out, knew his father would throw a fit, could already hear him, I fought in that war, boy! What's she doing with those slant-eyes? He liked Lisa too much to expose her to that and just kept sliding his homework over, struck dumb by her giggling and twelve year old squealing. She pulled a B- in math, and had hugged him as a thank-you when the grades came out. It was the closest that he had ever come to a girl, and even all these years later, he remembered what it felt like as his body sprung to life as it touched hers. She had been too young to understand, and he had thanked god for that fact as he sat down quickly and grabbed a book to read in his lap.
Next was Suzy, in high school. She was the first girl he had ever known who colored her hair. It was a completely unnatural shade, too unnaturally bright for her darker skin, and yet he whenever he saw her, he could never look away. Her hair was so straight that she had to iron it flat and who even did that anymore? The only child of a divorced mother, she was the school bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks. These things mattered in his town, but not to him. She had also been his first kiss, as the two of them sat sharing smuggled beers watching the Friday night football game. She let him get all the way to second base that night, while they sat in the car he had borrowed from his father. She went barefoot even in the coldest weather, like a ghost or a fool. She dropped out of high school to play in a band in Los Angeles, but before she left, she cut off a lock of her hair for him. That was the first and only time his father had seen Suzy and he had only grunted and called her damn trash. High school Jethro had stammered out an apology but she was stoned and only laughed and gave him a kiss that tasted bittersweet from the grass. He never saw her again, had no idea what became of her. He liked to think of her as settled and happy somewhere, a suburban matron with 2.3 kids and a husband who was going bald. He liked to think of her happy.
Trish transferred to his high school his senior year. He had already made up his mind to join the Marines as soon as he got his degree, follow in the old man's footsteps like a good son ought to, even if he did hate the man half the time. He was busting his butt to get the best grades he could and counting the months left when she walked into his senior year biology class. A tiny little thing, she wore glasses and kept her hair in a bun, like he always thought dancers might. Jethro remembered about dying from suppressed happiness when the teacher told her to work with him because his old partner was out with the kissing disease. She took to the class like a whiz, had to be about a thousand times smarter than him. She told him once she wanted to be a biologist, but her family was on her case to be more womanly by which they meant to forget all that fancy education and get herself married and pregnant. She thought they were hopelessly old-fashioned and spent all her free time in the counselor's office, finding out about college scholarships.
Jethro screwed his courage to the sticking point and asked her to be his girlfriend. She gave him the same searching look she gave the frog on the dissection table, but she must have liked what she saw, because she said yes. They went to prom together and she wore a dark green dress and her hair up in fancy curls that he took down with shaking hands later that night. He was in love for the first time in his life.
So brilliant that it took his breath away, he wasn't surprised when she got scholarship choices from all over the country. At his persuasion, one of them was from the University of South Carolina. He had already been talking to the recruiters, and knew it was likely that he would train at Parris Island. Taking the combination of events as a good omen, he asked her to marry him as she signed her college paperwork. Her mother was in the kitchen, refusing to speak to her, and her father was at work, and Jethro was so nervous he was sick with it. She said yes without looking up, but he thought he saw her smile as he slide the tiny diamond ring on her finger-- the recruiter had promised him a signing bonus and he had brought the ring on credit. It was a little too big, but she said she loved it.
Trish explained in her careful voice that she didn't want to marry until the end of her freshman year. She pulled out the atlas and reminded him that Columbia and Beaufort weren't actually that close together. He agreed to everything she asked, and when they told her mother, the woman still said nothing, only stared at him stonily.
They were married in the next summer, he in his dress blues, she in a simple, off-white dress that made her hair glow. He remembered that she wore a crown of daisies in her hair, with blue ribbons to match his uniform hanging down her back. She smelled sweet, like cookies, and when he kissed her, he was so happy he was afraid he might faint. They held hands as they walked under the crossed swords of his Marine buddies and at their reception, they drank too much and were too sick to sleep together that night.
They were married eight years, pretty good for high-school sweethearts, he had always thought. Half the marriage, they were in different places from each other. She went on to get her Ph.D., crisscrossing the country in her effort to get the best education she could. The corps sent him to every damn hotspot they could, including a lengthy stint in Grenada, and frowned on promotion for him, partially, he was always sure, because of his unconventional wife. Trish rarely lived in the same place as him, took care with her birth control so that children wouldn't interfere with her education, and, even when she was around, never bothered to talk to the other marine wives, all of whom she viewed as her intellectual inferiors. He got leave to see her get her doctorate, watch her walk across the stage in her gown and hood, and was unpleasantly surprised later that night by her straightforward request for a divorce. She was, she told him, pregnant, and it wasn't his. Her lover, older than Gibbs and without a doubt, smarter, was waiting in the car outside her small apartment while he stared at her, shellshocked, as his life fell apart around him.
He got hopelessly drunk that night and fucked a redheaded hooker who charged way too much but let him call her Trish. He didn't fight the divorce, having figured out for the first time that he had been a means to an end for her, a way to get the education she wanted while still fulfilling her family's expectations. He didn't think they would be crushed by the divorce; they had always blamed him for the lack of grandchildren, letting slip snide little side comments about what kind of a man he wasn't.
He was bitter on women for a long time after the divorce. He could admit that redheads made him stupid, and worked hard against the weakness. He told himself that he had learned his lesson. He would go out bar crawling with his buddies on leave and pick up any damn brunette or blond he could find. None of them stirred him the way the redheads did, but he figured we was being smart. He swore he would never make the mistake of marrying another woman.
Which is when he met Cora. She was engaged to a fellow marine, not a buddy but someone he knew on speaking terms. Tall and shapely, stronger men than him broke their cool to turn and stare when she sauntered down the street. She favored short skirts and high heels and her hair was a wild, curly, glorious red, always mussed like she had just rolled out of bed. Ben bitched about her all the time, claimed she was high maintenance and not worth the trouble, but Gibbs fell for her hard and never looked back. He had never been so stupid for a woman, never gone down so hard for a girl. She would watch him with big brown eyes and pouty, shiny lips and he would just start thinking with his dick. To his credit, the only credit he could claim ever claim with Cora, she came to him first. He was no poacher, or hadn't been till then, but she was not a woman a man could say no to. In bed, she was ever bit as incredible as she looked and he was hooked on her faster than a drug. She broke the engagement to Ben and Gibbs married her in a quickie ceremony in Vegas. Nothing but bad blood between him and Ben after that, but he was soft in the head for Cora and going down fast. He would have married her if she was his best friend's wife.
Not surprisingly, the marriage was rocky from the get-go. A spendthrift, she went through his money like water and spent it all on her back. He'd been hot for the way she dressed when he was panting at her heels, but now that she was married to him, it made him cringe because he knew how other men looked at her. He half-suspected she was cheating on him, felt crazy possessive whenever other men looked at her and he drank way too much when he was with her, to forget the former two things. Whenever he got shipped out, he about went crazy thinking of all the things she might be doing with him gone.
The only woman he had ever been tempted to hit was Cora, when he watched her come in too late one night when he had decided to surprise her on leave. She was drunk and more mussed than usual and he wanted to slam her against the wall and take her there just to make her forget whatever man she had been with. The thought scared him so much he left and spent the night in a cheap hotel, surrounded by whores and johns and the sounds of loveless fucking. He stayed awake the whole time, thinking about Cora and trying decide whether he loved her, lusted after her, or was just plain obsessed by her. He couldn't come to an answer and went back the next day without seeing her.
To his surprise, his distance made her closer to him. She called constantly, left messages all the time. When she got him on the phone, she talked so dirty that it left him hard, aching, and very much alone. In bed with her, he was crazy for her, completely lost in her. Out of bed, they fought all the time, about any damn thing that they could. There was no food in the house? They fought. Gibbs left a mess, cleaning his guns in the kitchen? They fought. Gibbs went out drinking with his buds and some lying bitch called Cora to say he was making the moves on some other woman? Well, that was the night she bashed him in the head with the baseball bat. To be fair, she was drunk off her ass, but still, she hit him so hard he went down seeing stars. Training told him to kick her ass, but he fought it off and moved back on base instead. Not long after, he got shipped off to the Gulf for Operation Desert Storm, and when he wasn't fighting, he worked hard at not thinking about what she might be doing while he was off soldiering in the damn desert.
He surprised himself by divorcing her when he got back stateside. The stress of being married to her was just too much. His last physical had not gone well and the doc had commented on the fact that he was drinking too much and sleeping too little. He couldn't shake himself of the thought of who might be in her bed when he wasn't. She fought him all the way and he wound up paying through the nose. Alimony. In this day and age. He paid it until she found herself a sugar-daddy and he about threw a party when she phoned him and told him, in a too sweet voice, that she was getting married to some rich old guy. Still stupid in lust with her, even if he had left love far behind, he let her seduce him one last time for a good-bye. He knew he was better off without her, without the paranoia and the pain, but it was still a slap to the face to think of her with another man.
He took his honorable discharge not long after the divorce. He had been a Marine fifteen years by then, not a bad run, and while he liked the rank he finally got, he was ready for something different. During the dustup with the baseball bat, he had met a couple of NCIS agents and had gotten to talking to them, in between explaining why he didn't want to press charges against his crazed soon-to-be-ex wife. When he left the corps, he applied and was accepted into NCIS. Newly single, he repeated his vow to never get married again. It was a fool's game and one blow to the head was all he needed to convince himself he didn't need a third ride on the matrimonial merry-go-round. It would be two more years before he made a liar out of himself again.
His first years at NCIS were quiet, with no women in sight. He kept to himself, did his job, and started thinking about the sea. What he wanted, he decided, was to build his own boat. Logic told him that if he wasn't going to have a woman, he better get himself a damn good hobby as a distraction. This one looked to take a long time, even if it didn't promise to keep him warm at night.
Into all this peace and quiet came Kay, a reference librarian. She was the one he met when he began to look at books about boats and boat construction. He had felt a sinking sense of dismay when he saw she was a redhead, but he was thirty-five now and couldn't possibly be as dumb as he had been at seventeen and twenty-eight. Plus, what were the odds that a looker like her would be single? Pretty damn good, as it turned out, when he did a quick ring check and saw her finger was bare. Great nails, though; long and sharp and painted a dark and bloody red. His courtship of her was slow and careful. Burned twice, he couldn't believe he would be fool enough to do this again, but she seemed different from Trish and Cora and he didn't seem to be getting any smarter. How much trouble could a reference librarian be? Dating her, he found out she had been engaged three times, which any other man would have taken as a warning sign. He decided to believe her when she explained that all three of the breakups had been the guys' fault. After all, he had been married twice, what did he know? Slowly, and more carefully now that he was older, he let himself fall for Kay. She was excited by the idea of him building a boat and she liked books. This had to be a better bet than wives number one and two.
When he was thirty-seven, they were married by a justice of the peace in a small ceremony that only Ducky and a friend of Kay's attended. Ducky, of course, now having known Gibbs for five years, knew about Trish and Cora and had advised against Kay, but redheads had always been Gibbs' weakness. Ducky wore a bow-tie and a frown to the wedding and was still shaking his head as he signed the marriage license.
The third time is the charm, Gibbs remembered thinking optimistically as he and Kay started making a life together. Since they had dated for two years before they got hitched, his longest run yet before marriage, he figured she was well accustomed to his cop's hours and his sudden and surprising need to fly to far distance locals to interview suspects. Turned out, she wasn't. For the first year, she bore with it. Than she started to get angry with it, then mean, and then morose.
Patiently, he tried to explain to her that if she had expected him to change his hours or his job, she should have done that before the marriage. He might have been willing to think about a change prior to that, but to him, her marriage had implied consent. She started bitching at him every time he called to say it was going to be a late night. Abby, his new lab tech, a creature he was fairly convinced wasn't human even if she was damn good at her job, started to look at him with pity whenever she saw him glance at the clock and then start dialing numbers. Gibbs was fairly sure that it was not a good sign when a person like Abby pitied him.
Bitching turned to drinking. Gibbs wondered what it was about him that made his women turn to drink. Although, to be fair, Cora had been a drinker when he met her and he had never known Trish well enough to know whether or not she drank at all. (He knew she sent Christmas cards with pictures of her ever growing family, a little act of kindness that he had never appreciated.) Kay drinking now, that was new. When they fought, her so drunk he could smell it, she ranted that when she fell in love with him, all he wanted to do was build a damn boat. He would scream back that he was building the damn boat, wasn't it down in the damn basement, and she would rail back that he had to be home to build the damn thing, didn't he. The arguments made him want to bury himself in work and he tried not to take offense as Ducky lectured him on the percentage of law enforcement marriages that ended in divorce. Since those weren't numbers he wanted to hear, he tried to drown Ducky out by listening to Abby's too loud music. She was dating some biochemist twice her age and it wasn't going well. He would let her gripe to him and felt strangely better, knowing he wasn't the only person in the world who couldn't make a relationship work.
After a case took Gibbs away from home and to Cuba for three hellish weeks, all the phone calls in the world couldn't placate Kay. Though he wasn't sure, he was pretty sure she spent most of his time away drunker than a sailor on shore-leave. When he got home, she was totally wasted, and screaming every obscenity he had ever heard at him and a fair few that he hadn't known before, which was something he hadn't thought possible. He spent a futile ten minutes trying to calm her down and then gave up, deciding it was easier to stop talking than to try to talk her out of her insanity.
That worked until she swung the golf club at his head. It was painfully reminiscent of being slammed in the head with Cora's baseball bat. Who knew they had so much in common? The golf club, he had the chance to reflect dizzily, hurt more than the baseball bat. He chalked that up to the fact that it was thinner, more localized pain. Plus, it bleed more than the hit from the baseball bat. He was glad that she hadn't swung twice, and spared him the joy of having to clean his own blood off the walls. The blood must have scared her, because she offered to drive him to the hospital. He was more scared of being in a car with Kay while she was this drunk, so he told her to call Ducky for him.
On the drive, Ducky reminded him that he could press charges. Gibbs, applying pressure to his head wound with one of Ducky's handkerchiefs, barely managed to not roll his eyes. As if he was going to go to some branch of law enforcement and admit he had been clubbed in the head by his wife. Again. When they got to the hospital, Gibbs made up a bullshit story to explain his head trauma and listened patiently as the medical staff explained to him the dangers of a concussion.
When he got home, Kay was sleeping off her drunk. Well, that or she was passed out. Unconscious, she looked as beautiful as she had the first time he met her, but he knew their marriage was circling the drain. He reached out to touch her face, but pulled back at the last minute. Waking her would only continue the argument and he would rather have this memory of her, this one moment when she was perfect.
He applied for a divorce the next day and Kay didn't contest it. That was the promise he had exacted from her in exchange for not pressing charges. She looked dull and empty throughout the divorce proceedings, as if all the color had gone out of her. He was sorry that he hadn't been a better husband to her, sorry that between the two of them, they hadn't been able to make it work. He thought that maybe this was the first marriage he had actually invested himself in and watching it end like that hurt some part of him he hadn't known existed before now. Every time he saw her, Kay was crying. He tried to explain to her how this was for the best, how he was clearly no good for her. After the divorce, she moved, got a job in some small Northern state where winter lasted right up until summer and the US Military and its many branches never went. He knew the address because that was the kind of man he was. The kind who knew where all his ex-wives lived. He only ever saw her around their anniversary, and he had no idea how to respond to her strange, half-assed stalking except to not answer his cell phone and try to stay busy.
He managed to keep himself away from redheads for another two years. It was a long dry-spell for him, maybe too long. In the absence of redheads to debase himself in front of and then divorce, Gibbs found that it was actually possible for him to get more stupid than he had been. In the absence of redheads, he had found that when a man looked past Abby's too black hair and too white skin, she was beautiful and even more brilliant than Trish, even if she did remain young enough to be his daughter. Keeping to his promise to avoid redheads, he convinced Kate to join the NCIS even though it would take a bigger fool than him not to notice that she handled her gun the way a man would want her to handle him. He had started to realize that perhaps there were worse things to be a fool for than redheads. As such, it had almost been a relief to meet Kinsey, who, although redheaded, at least allowed him the opportunity for familiar stupidity that wouldn't get him fired or up on charges of sexual harassment.
No, Gibbs reflected as he watched Kinsey watch him while he worked on the boat, he had told himself he would not be the man he had been before. Kinsey, he had sworn, would be different from the others. She had three ex-husbands to match his ex-wives, and swore each marriage had been more boring than the one before. She had more money than she could spend in her life time and a rich daddy who indulged her every whim. Currently, it was her whim to watch him build his boat, and spend the night when the interest caught her. She even got a kick out of driving him to crime scenes and watching his team try to figure out who she is, what she is to their boss. He suspects strongly that, after dropping him off, she laughs all the way home.
They met in a bar, which even Gibbs, with his many mistakes, knew was not good. He was out drinking with old marine buddies and she was out slumming, all by herself. He had been drunker than he was willing to admit and, to this day, he swore that was why his first words to her was a refusal to marry her. She had only laughed and agreed wholeheartedly. Her smile, slow and sultry, made him think of sex, and nights that never ended. He took her home that first night and they had been circling in each other's orbit ever since. She is cool on him, more like Trish than Kay and nothing at all like Cora. They talk surprisingly little, perhaps recognizing in each other a refusal to get attached again. It was a shared joke between them, how much divorce lawyers cost, how little they enjoy court. They are well aware of how little they have in common. Despite this, he stops in his work on the boat and stares at her, the shape of her, the light in her eyes.
When she speaks, her voice is smooth and smoky, like the best bourbon he's ever had. You better not be thinking about marriage, she says, a joke almost but not quite in her voice. It is a reminder of the rules of their relationship.
he agrees instantly, his voice firm and confident and she smiles in relief, that smile that drives him crazy.
But he's lying to himself, like he always has, and he knows it.