Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS or any of the NCIS characters.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs was sitting on a plane headed for Mexico. Sitting and waiting. He resented the fact that he wasn't the one flying the 727. He couldn't make it go any faster. He had thought about driving – at least he'd have control over the vehicle; he'd have been able to feel the rumble of the engine and the breeze passing through the windows. He could have slammed his foot on the accelerator and seen the speedometer needle whip to the right. But flying would get him there sooner. The quicker he was finished, the quicker he could get home.
Could he really call it that anymore? She was his home. Was.
His chest felt hollow, as though the part of his heart reserved for her had deflated and left too much space. At any moment, his ribs would cave in and a jumble of useless pieces would crash to where his heart had been.
Her hair, auburn, flowing loosely over her slight shoulders. Her hands, soft and smooth, woven through his calloused, roughened fingers. Her smile, holding years of love and secrets only he knew about. Her eyes, wide, clear green, passed on to Kelly...
A tube entering her throat, an IV hooked to her arm, several stitches crowning her forehead, medical tape and splints bracing a few tiny fingers. His last image of Kelly was her small frame covered by a white sheet, sleeping as quietly as she did any other night. But she had been broken and he was the one that let it happen.
Jethro didn't know if she was ever going to forgive him for this, but it was something he needed to do. He didn't know if it was right or wrong or if it was going to make his world turn again, but on some level, it would help him, and hopefully Kelly, to move forward one step at a time. He was going to make first step for them.
"Enjoy your stay in Mexico."
And now was the time to take it.
Breathing in time with his heartbeat, he waited.
Check wind. Check cover. No one. Good.
Gravel crunched beneath the pick-up's tires.
He made sure to pocket the tiny gold casing.
The plane landed with an hour to spare. That would be enough time to go back to the house, take a shower, get dressed, and get to the funeral. He didn't want to think about anything else.
He made it to the cemetery ten minutes before the service began. Hands patted his shoulders and back and he blindly accepted hugs from friends. He watched the pastor read passages and speak to the people that had gathered, but the words that reached his ears slid together as though he was under water. Jethro couldn't feel his face or his arms or his legs. He sat in his chair and stared at his hands.
His eyes closed.
It would take longer than forever to adjust to the empty space at his side where she should be.
"I'm sorry about everything that happened, Mr. Gibbs," said a small voice in front of him.
Jethro paused for just a moment, then opened his eyes to see that everyone had left except for Kelly's best friend, Maddie Tylor, and a woman he faintly recognized as her mother.
"Maddie, let Mr. Gibbs be. I'm sorry Jethro. So sorry. We're going to miss Shannon so much," she said, her face full of sadness.
He looked up at her and attempted a weak smile, but nothing came. Instead, he took Maddie's tiny hand. She stepped closer, letting him guide her, and looked straight into his eyes. Jethro could see that hers were rimmed red. The girl lifted her free hand, gently put it underneath his eye, and wiped away something wet from his cheek. He held her palm to his face, feeling the warmth that emanated from it.
"Thank you, Maddie."
He could never shake the smell of antiseptics that filled hospitals. Too many times had he been forced to endure emergency rooms and intensive care units, all accompanied by the overpowering stink of blood and floor cleaner. This time, however, another scent was thrown into the mix, one Jethro had hoped he would never sense in a hospital. The smell of Kelly.
Strawberry shampoo combined with earth and flowers from the back yard and a hint of sawdust. It didn't belong here amongst the tubes and monitors and stethoscopes. He just wanted to pick her up and whisk her back home where they would begin to accept what had happened, to mend together. He could have kicked himself when he found out that she had woken up asking for him while he was in another country taking care of the situation.
Jethro sat next to her bed and watched his daughter slowly recover. Nurses had taken out the tube from her throat when she had started to breath stronger on her own. No longer was he counting time by seconds, minutes, or hours, but rather by the rise and fall of her fragile chest. Only twice had he left Kelly's side since he returned from the funeral: once to go to the head, another to get a decent cup of coffee so he wouldn't bow into sleep. She had not moved the slightest bit.
He took her hand, small and limp, in his own to feel its size and shape and smoothness. So many times he had taken it to guide her, provide comfort, or simply know she was there. When she was born, he'd made it his duty that, with every last fiber of his being, he would protect her until his dying day. It hadn't been from some stupid third grade crush or a pet that got hit by a car. Her mother had been taken from her and he had been the one to push the rock over the edge. But now...
"Dad?" Kelly opened her groggy eyes just enough to see him sitting beside her bed.
"Yeah, Kell, I'm here." Jethro took a quick inventory of all the things that might be causing her pain. Unfortunately, he couldn't look at her heart. "How are you feeling?"
"Sleepy." She rolled onto her side and made a feeble attempt to squeeze his hand. He held hers tighter.
"Do you need anything? Are you hungry?"
"No. Just sleepy." She looked at him and began to smile, but it morphed into a frown. "Why weren't you here when I woke up last time?"
He had already decided to tell her the story later – much later. "I had some stuff to take care of. I'm sorry. I should have been here. I'll be here with you until we go back home." He could tell by the way she looked at him that she knew he was holding something back.
"I missed you."
"I know, kiddo. I'm sorry."
It had always marveled him how lightly she took tough situations. She would forgive others in a heartbeat, something inherited from Shannon, no doubt.
"When can we go home?"
He took in her state for the millionth time that day. Broken and torn. Battered and bruised. Thrown around like a rag doll. All he wanted to do was to make her better again. He wanted to promise her that she would be safe forever, that no one would harm her or make her upset. But in that moment, he realized that it was the other way around. He was the one that was crumbling, squirming in agony. It dawned on him that she was the one who kept him safe, sane. She was the reason he was here, grounded. Everything else in the world had shed its importance except for the tiny replica of Shannon before him. She was his own, personal gravity. The universe meant nothing, now, if she was not there.
"Soon, Kell. Soon."