1991; The Last Time He Saw Them

It was simply a typical morning in the Gibbs household. Shannon was making fresh lemonade from lemons purchased at Oceanside's organic market. Kelly was gathering things together for a morning of gardening in their temporary backyard.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs was backing his backpack.

In other words, it was as typical a morning as it could be for the family of a marine setting off for deployment, and it took every effort of every family member to keep things typical.

He set his jaw a little bit tighter as he shoved more supplies into his bag, adjusting his cover. It was mid-January and the weather was pleasant and cool in California, but he was sweating. He listened to his wife and daughter talking back and forth through the open screen door.

It felt much the same as the week he had packed up the pick-up to drive out to California, but more permanent. That time, Shannon and Kelly had been following the next week to live on base with him while he trained for this deployment. This time, he was leaving for the Middle East, and a minefield—literal and figurative—of politics, war, and uncertainty.

He didn't want them to follow him there. He was glad they would be here, safe and happy, even if he did have to dive in to some mess a couple governments had made. He would miss them, but it was his job.

"Dad," Kelly tapped him on the back, standing on her tip-toes. He turned around from the back of the pick-up, raising an eyebrow. She beamed at him a little nervously. Shannon had told her to stay out from underfoot, but he didn't mind.

"Need somethin', baby?" he asked.

She shook her head and held out a bracelet strung with incongruous beads. She sidled up next to him and started to scramble up on the truck bed. He helped her, watching so she wouldn't fall. She sat up straight and took his hand, placing the bracelet in it.

"I made it in art class when we learned about Native Americans," she said, pointing at the beads. "They're made of clay, and I painted them. And I put a blessing on them to keep you safe," she explained, poking the bracelet towards him.

He picked it up, eyeing it with a small smile.

"Should I eat them?" he asked seriously.

He brought them to his mouth hesitantly.

"Daddy!" she cried, giggling. She rolled his eyes. "You wear it, silly!" she informed him taking it back. "See, look," she rolled the bracelet onto his wrist and settled it just where the sleeve of his uniform ended.

He looked at the bracelet, tilting his head. He smirked a little, reaching over to touch some of the textured, earthy beads. Then he reached out and cupped Kelly's cheek in his palm.

"You like it?" she asked, her eyes wide and anxious.

"Love it," he answered gruffly. He leaned over and kissed the crown of her head, resting his cheek there briefly. "I'll stay safe, Kelly," he muttered, ruffling her hair a little.

"Well, but, you can't make the bad guys let you be safe," she said smartly, frowning a little. "Daddy, I hate it when you go to war."

He frowned, studying her quietly. He lowered his hand and rubbed her shoulder soothingly.

"I don't like it either," he said gently. "It's my job."

"You like being a marine!" she pointed out with a smile.

He nodded in agreement.

"I don't like leaving you and your mother," he pointed out.

She made a face, frowning.

"It scares me when you go," she said quietly. "Last time your stitches were scary. What happens if you die?" she asked, tilting her head up. Her blue eyes were so wide with apprehension.

Jethro swallowed hard and touched her under the chin, shaking his head slowly.

"Nah, dying isn't in the cards," he said, as lightly as possible.

"Daddy, you don't know everything," she informed him.

He reached over and shook the beads she'd given him.

"I'm blessed, remember?" he asked, making a 'duh' sort of face.

She looked at the beads for a minute. She broke into a wide smile and scrambled up, throwing her arms around his neck. She squeezed him until he couldn't breathe. He closed his eyes, hugging her back gently.

It was harder to have these conversations the older Kelly got. She understood more, and she became angry if he or Shannon downplayed what might happen.

Glasses clinked gently in the yard and Jethro turned, swinging Kelly off the truck bed and placing her steadily on the driveway.

"Lemonade," he pointed out, widening his eyes. He reached out and swiped at her stomach, tickling her lightly. "Make Mom give me the big glass," he said in a whisper. Kelly scampered off to do so.

He turned back to zipping and fastening his bags, the beads on his bracelet clinking together softly. He tried not to dwell too much on the months ahead. This was only his second legitimately dangerous, long deployment, and the last had not been too bad.

The leaving did not get any easier. There was some new hardship to it every time he came across it, yet it did become more…commonplace. He and the girls sort of fell into a routine when it came time for him to go, and once the fourth or fifth time had come around, there was less of a desperate fear to it.

He didn't know how long Bush would have them overseas for this one, but there could be a long road ahead. It would be his second tour as a sniper. In the back of his mind and the pit of his stomach, he had a hollow, inexplicable feeling of dread. He wanted to chalk it up to his leaving—he knew he would miss Kelly's piano recital, and his and Shannon's anniversary—but that wasn't it.

Something was wrong in his gut.

He tried to shake it off.

"Mommy put too much sugar in it," Kelly warned him solemnly, scampering back up with a full glass. Jethro eyed the cup apprehensively.

"How much too much?" he asked warily. He shot a glare at Shannon over Kelly's shoulder. How dare she ruin his last glass of lemonade for what could be months.

"Well, she thought it would be okay to put all the rest of our sugar in there," Kelly said.

Jethro took a sip. He made a face and narrowed his eyes. Kelly grinned, and started to open her mouth.

"Shhh!" Jethro said. "Don't tell her," he hissed.

"He likes it!" Kelly yelled.

"Liars," Shannon responded, eyeing them.

Kelly shared a look with him and giggled. He drank most of the lemonade and handed it back to Kelly as Shannon approached, a folded up blanket in her hands. Kelly ran off to dispose of the glass.

"What are you expecting to gain from lying through your teeth?" she murmured, arching an eyebrow.

"Hmmmmm," he sighed lazily. He reached out and rested both arms on her shoulders, tilting his head thoughtfully. "Don't know, baby, why don't you climb in the back of my truck and find out?" he asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Shannon titled her head back and laughed, her nose crinkling attractively.

"Our permanent form of birth control reminds me I must deny you," she said sadly, shrugging a little. She glanced at Kelly as the eight-year-old skipped back towards them. "Here she comes now," she whispered.

Jethro grinned.

"What are you guys talking about?" Kelly asked, putting her hands on her hips and looking at them sternly.

"Birds," Jethro said seriously.

Shannon smirked. She rested her palm on the blanket in her hand.

"I pulled it off the bed. Keep warm," she said. He took it and pressed it to his nose, inhaling her scent. He nodded, placing it with the rest of his things. It would be much appreciated on freezing, February desert nights.

There was a moment of silence; they each knew the time had come for him to drive away. He knelt down to Kelly's level and snatched her close for a hug, kissing her cheek.

"Bye, Daddy," she mumbled quietly.

"Bye, sweetheart," he said gruffly. He smiled at her, his hand on his knee. "Send me a tape of that piano recital, okay?" She nodded vigorously.

He stood up.

"We've said it all before," he said vaguely, with a shrug.

"Say the words," she demanded, arching an eyebrow.

"I will take care," he recited, rolling his eyes playfully. "I will come back safe."

She gave him a look through her lashes.

"Not those words," she said softly.

He stepped a little closer and kissed her on the mouth, squeezing her fingers in his tightly.

"I love you," he offered up, almost under his breath.

She nodded, taking the words to heart. She kissed his cheek gently and then pressed her palm against the same spot, meeting his eyes silently for a second. Then she stepped back, and crossed her arms.

"We'll be here when you get back," she said simply, giving him a smile.

He gave them a wave and closed up the back of the truck. He got in, revved the engine, and threw his cover in the seat next to him, pulling out of the drive. He smiled tightly as he saw them waving at him in the rearview mirror.

He still could not shake that cold feeling of dread, but he began to attribute it full to the prospect of war in the Middle East. He did not understand how the unmarried, single soldiers did it—he couldn't comprehend how they lived through the bloodshed, inhumanity, and torture of the war without any light to go home to.

That was how he thought of it, at least. Kelly and Shannon, they kept him going. They kept his spirits up when the absolute horror and the trauma and the stress threatened to consume his soul.

The very knowledge that they were waiting for him at home assuaged ever fear and hopeless feeling, because they were really all that mattered to him.

For a short time, when he'd run away from Stillwater, the Marines had been his world. He hadn't given a damn about anything. But now, that was different. Being a Marine was just a job—Shannon and Kelly were his world.

Le End.

-Well, that is that. It was indeed finished by graduation-oh, the nostalgia, fictional and non.