Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS or the characters involved. Just my over analytical mind, this snapshot-like tag, its plot, and the last line of lyrics at the very end of the story. : 3
He walked across the dewy grass, his mind still and quiet like the city around him, yet filled with a peculiar buzzing. The yellow glow of the capitol building shined out at him as he came to a halt, his slow breathing rising in foggy wisps against the periwinkle backdrop of the dawn sky. All quiet on the Eastern front, he thought to himself rather wryly. It almost made him want to laugh. But, as almost always, his face betrayed no emotion.
While he was barely aware of his surroundings, he was hyper-aware of the cassette in his pocket. His large, cold fingers clutched around it tightly but gently, almost as if it were a lifeline made of china. And in a way, it was: this was one of the few things that connected him to the faraway past. Before Kate or Ari, or Jenny or NCIS. . . to what was the first time, and the last time.
The voice of his eight-year-old daughter filled his mind as he crouched down and gazed at her grave stone.
"Daddy, daddy! Look what I can play!" She sat down at the piano bench, heart surging with glee. She began to play the simple lullaby, her tiny mouth cutely spelling out the letter's for each note of "Hush Little Baby, Don't You Cry". She got about halfway through before hitting a sour note.
"Eurgh!" Kelly exclaimed, scrunching up her brow in frustration and banging her little fists on the wooden frame of the piano. "I never get it right!" She tried to jump up off of the bench but her dad planted her firmly to her seat.
"Hey, hey, hey," he said placing her hands back in the appropriate positions at middle C. "You're never going to get anywhere if you don't practice."
Kelly sighed and resumed playing, biting her lip and stuttering through the melody. When she finished, she turned to her right and looked up at her father's face expectantly. His face split into a grin, and so did hers. He scooped her up and slung her over his shoulders, walking towards the front door with her giggling next to his ear. Outside, he sat his daughter down on the cement steps, the coolness from the concrete a welcome relief from the balmy August weather. Kelly sighed.
"What's wrong? You did it, you finished your song," he asked, cocking his head at her downcast expression.
"But it wasn't perfect!" she exclaimed, pouting slightly. "It has to be perfect by my next recital!"
"Hmmm, is that so?"
"Well…" he said, trailing off. Kelly looked at him expectantly, eye brows raised. He smirked before continuing. "Perfection isn't really possible. All you can do is be the best you can be." She bit her lip in contemplation, a look of supreme concentration overtaking her young face. Just then, her mom's car pulled up in the driveway, and Kelly jumped up, grinning, to help her mom bring in the groceries. . . And make sure she remembered to buy apples.
He chuckled, heading over to his wife and daughter, grinning like the fool in love that he was. All thoughts of tomorrow's deployment forgotten, he headed over to them, taking a brown paper bag filled with fruit from the back seat as Kelly ran along side him, trying to peek inside, with Shannon laughing at their antics.
Later that evening, he and Shannon were tucking Kelly in to bed. His wife sat on the edge of their daughter's bed as he pulled up the cover's to Kelly's chin.
"Daddy?" she asked sleepily without opening her eyes.
"I'm going to get second place at my recital," she mumbled as her mother pulled a few wayward strands of hair out of her face. He glanced up at Shannon, seeing the same questions mirrored in her eyes. He glanced back down at his daughter.
"Why second place? How come you don't want first?"
"Cause I don't wanna be perfect," she said, opening her eyes and staring hazily up at her father with tired but still bright blue eyes. "But I still wanna be good."
He smiled softly, looking back up to his wife, then down to his daughter. . .
He inhaled sharply, blinking once, twice. . . and on the third, his grip around the tape tightened. He finally let go and took his right hand out of his pocket to touch her grave stone.
"Hush little baby., don't say a word. . . Daddy's gonna buy you a mockingbird…" He began to sing the tune almost absentmindedly, the lullaby sounding more rough as he went on. He didn't cry, he never cried. But if any new dew did fall to the ground in front of the infamous Leroy Jethro Gibbs. . . Well, only three things would be able to testify to it, and the sky and ground weren't going to be talking anytime soon.
As he traced the letters of his daughter's name, etched into the grey marble, he adjusted himself from his crouched position to sitting cross legged. He had a feeling that he'd be here for awhile.
"What do you think Daddy? I came in second place!!" Giggling in happiness.
"You would've been proud of her Jethro!" Shannon, voice smiling.
"I miss you Daddy. When you get I home, I'll be really good at it! I promise. I love you!"
"Kisses for Daddy!"
"Bye, Jethro. We miss you!"
"I love you, Daddy!"
I love you. . .
You heard about dead people all of the time. The passing of children hit especially hard for most, even if they weren't related in any way. But eventually, they would forget, they would move on.
But everything changed when you discovered something, as had Hollis, that made that person or those people into more than memories. . . more than just names.
"And if that horse and cart fall down, you'll still be the sweetest little baby in town. . ." He blinked again, squinting, his eyes slightly over bright. And as he brought out the cassette, back in its protective plastic covering, he ran his calloused hands over the smooth surface, still gazing at his daughter's name.
"And even when you're no longer here. . . Daddy's still going to hold you near . . ."