Float

He builds boats, in his basement, during his spare time. His team knows it. All of NCIS knows it, really. Nobody really knew why, though. Rumors circulate; everything from "it's how he relieves stress" to "he sells them to fund his retirement" to "he burns them in a huge bonfire when he finishes them. Some kind of pagan sacrifice ritual."

He knows they wonder, and talk, although he hasn't heard the sacrifice rumor yet. He doesn't explain himself, and they never ask because they are too intimidated. He likes it that way. Years in the Core have taught him that action is better than talk. He doesn't volunteer information. Truth be told, he might tell them, if they asked and he was in a decent mood.

Despite what the name "Marine" would suggest, he actually hadn't spent too much time on the water in his life. He built his first boat in the early 80's, around the time he met Shannon. He took her out in it on their first date, wanting to impress her with something different and romantic. It was small, a glorified rowboat, really. He hadn't even bothered to name it or christen it. The boat listed badly to the starboard side, and began to take on water almost immediately because of a small leak (or two). He had to keep scooping the water out with his cupped hands and tossing it over the side while trying to row at the same time. Row a few strokes, scoop some water, row some more, scoop some moreā€¦

He was horribly embarrassed, though he tried not to show it. She must have thought him a complete fool. He could tell she was trying to be patient and polite, but a smile kept pulling at her lips. Then a snicker escaped. By the time they finally reached the center of the pond, she had erupted in full-blown giggles.

"I'm glad you find this so amusing," he said, trying to sound serious. But he couldn't quite hold back a chuckle of his own.

Her blue eyes flashed as a devilish look crossed her face. With one swift movement she reached forward, grabbed his shirt, and leaned hard to starboard. In a split-second they were over the side, splashing down into the water.

For a moment they floated, seemingly suspended in time. Cool, soft wetness all around. Bubbles floating up to the surface. He opened his eyes and saw a beam of sunlight cut through the murky water, right where she was.

They stood, dripping and gasping for breath. She was still laughing. Water streamed off her, sleek and beautiful. He was usually such a gentleman on the first date, but he could not help himself

She looked surprised, then pleased, when he gently kissed her. She took his hand.

"Why don't we continue this date on dry land?"

He wanted to ask her to marry him, right then and there. But he waited for seven months, and built another boat in the meantime. It was bigger, and this one didn't leak. When he got down on one knee, it didn't list. He wasn't quite so secure, nearly dropping the ring in the water from nervousness.

They lied in the bottom of the boat all afternoon. She kept looking at her ring, and he kept looking at the way the sun made her red hair shine. They watched the clouds go by until the last bit of sunlight faded from the sky. This time, they managed to stay dry.

He took Kelly out on the boat for the first time when she was four. He insisted she wear a life jacket, and he wore one too, even though he usually wouldn't bother. The importance of setting a good example was becoming more and more clear to him with each day of fatherhood.

He assumed she would be bored with fishing within ten minutes, but she surprised him by taking it very seriously. It was almost like she thought she could will the fish to bite the hook. Maybe she could. She caught five within the first twenty minutes, all keepers.

The last one became the fish story of the year. The bobber went down once, twice. She jerked the pole, and it jerked back, nearly pulling her over the edge of the boat. Gibbs caught her just in time, by the back of the life jacket. The fishing rod flew out of her hands and across the water, propelled by the monstrous one that got away.

She looked stunned, then ashamed. Her lower lip trembled. "I'm sorry, Daddy," she whispered.

He couldn't hide a smile. Then, his great laugh rang out. Soon she was giggling along with him as they packed up the gear.

"How big do you think that fish was, Daddy? Ten pounds?"

"Oh," he said seriously, "twelve pounds at least."

When he got back from Iraq, they were gone. He hadn't been there, and now it was too late. He took the boat out the backyard, doused it with gasoline, and watched it burn to ashes. The fire raged so bright and hot that the neighbors called the fire department. They came and ticketed him for burning inside the city limits without first obtaining the proper permit.

He tossed the ticket in the fire, too.

Twenty-five years and five boats later, he found himself submerged in water once again. The car had crashed off the end of the dock, not into the gentle water of a pond, but into the chilly waters of the Anacostia instead. Cool wetness surrounded him again. Bubbles floated up. But there was no serenity. No sunlight this time. He had come full circle. When the breath finally left his lungs and the water rushed in, he did not fight it.

But it wasn't the right time. He was to continue. He wasn't finished yet. He saw them, both of them, smiling and lovely just the way he remembered. It was enough, for now at least.