A/N: I present my first Alternate Universe Jibbs story. What's slightly amusing (to myself, anyway) is that its a type of story I typically can't stand to read. But, when inspiration strikes-you can't shut the door on it.
What You Need To Know: Kelly was only injured in the car accident; Shannon was killed. For this prologue, that is all that matters.
The walk through the Dulles International Airport that day was, without a single doubt, the hardest walk he had ever taken.
Every step was heavy, every sound too loud, and in the stifling crowd he thought he was the only one whose entire world had just fallen apart. He still didn't know what he was going to say to Kelly; he couldn't even find the words to comfort himself, much less his eight-year-old.
His head hurt. It had been throbbing since his CO told him. But that, and the brutal shrapnel would in his left shoulder, was hardly anything compared to the emotional pain. It seemed like he had been walking forever, and he just wanted to collapse and never move again, but he had to keep going, even if it meant facing something he wasn't sure he was capable of accepting.
He exited the main gate area and looked ahead of him, keeping his head high, and he saw her before she saw him. In between the crowds, small, her hair tied back in a green ribbon, standing next to Shannon's sister, her innocent blue eyes searching the crowd.
He clutched the strap of his backpack tightly and moved forward, his muscles aching, drawing a deep breath and strength from somewhere—anywhere.
Her sharp, excited cry reached his ears like a breath of fresh air, warmed his cold skin, and when he saw her pushing through the crowds to get to him, he felt better than he had in days. Leroy Jethro Gibbs dropped to his knees where he was and opened his arms.
Kelly threw herself against him, wrapping her arms around his neck tightly and burying her head in his injured shoulder. It didn't matter that it hurt like hell; it just mattered that she was safe. He put one hand on the back of her head, one around her little waist, hugging her close.
"Kelly," he whispered, finally feeling like he could breathe again.
"Daddy, I missed you. I was scared you wouldn't come home!" she whispered, patting his hair sweetly. He squeezed her comfortingly and kissed the top of her head, closing his eyes briefly.
"I promised I'd come back safe, baby," he told her.
Kelly snuggled up to him. She squirmed a little in his grip and pulled back, holding up a few flowers and wrinkling her nose shyly.
"I brought you flowers," she said quietly. He let his hand fall from her hair and took them with a pained smile, touching his knuckles to her cheek.
His fingers ran over healing scars on her cheeks. He was filled with anger and regret at the sight of the bruises and cuts, marks of the accident.
"Your mom's favorite," he said, nodding with approval at the near perfect daisies.
Kelly nodded, happy he had noticed. She knew he would remember. He was the best at remembering Mommy's favorites. He watched as her bright smile faltered a little, though she still tried to look pleasant, and her shoulders slumped a little.
"Mommy's gone," she whispered. He took a steadying breath. The last person he wanted to hear say it was Kelly. She moved closer to him and he wrapped his arm around her again.
"I know," he said softly, tiredly. He tightened his grip and picked Kelly up. She wrapped her arms around his neck and put her head on his shoulder, her fingers slipping inside his collar to find his dog tags.
He trudged through the last few spaces, smattered with oblivious people, to where Kelly's Aunt Sarah was standing, a weak smile on her face. Her arms were folded neatly across her chest, and she looked much like she was about to fall apart.
"How you holdin' up, Sar?" Jethro asked gruffly, leaning in to kiss her cheek.
"Not as well as she is," Sarah answered fondly, giving Kelly a watery, proud look. "She's like Shannon, I guess."
He just nodded, at a loss for what to say. It was more than real now, Shannon's death, if only because her absence here, when he returned home, was such a gaping hole.
Sarah took a breath and unfolded her hands, flexing her fingers as if she needed something to do.
"Let me take your bag," she said, reaching for the strap.
"I've got it, Sarah," Jethro shrugged her offer off.
She looked at him helplessly; her hand paused in mid air, as if she just wanted him to let her help. He sighed, frustrated, tired, miles away—Kelly reached up and pushed his backpack strap down his shoulder a little.
"You've got her," Sarah said gently, nodding to Kelly as she gently took the backpack. He didn't do a very good job of suppressing the grimace that came from the heavy material scraping over his injury.
"Daddy, the man Uncle Steve talked to on the phone said you got hurt in Kumait," Kelly said, looking up at him solemnly.
"Kuwait, Kelly," he corrected gently. "Nah, it's not bad. Just a flesh wound."
Kelly giggled softly and touched her forehead to his.
"I missed you Daddy," she whispered again, kissing his nose.
Jethro put his hand on her back and cupped her cheek, touching his index finger to her nose like he used to. She smiled and he managed to give her one back.
"Yeah," he murmured, thankful for her. "Missed you too, kiddo."
He thought the absence of her presence was going to break him. There were so many things he had never paid attention to, had hardly noticed, that she orchestrated that were gone now. The lights in the house were down, no candles were lit, and the sounds of all appliances were silenced.
There was no Shannon singing badly as she cleaned up after dinner, only crushing silence where there had once been her voice helping Kelly to memorize her multiplication tables, and Kelly's footsteps in the hall upstairs as she readied for bed were subdued and slow without Shannon to chase her from the kitchen to her bedroom and tickle her until she squealed with laughter.
The worst of it was, he knew, it crept over him like ice and settled over his heart, that once Kelly was curled up and asleep, there would be no Shannon to lay under the boat and laugh with him or read a book, and there would be no Shannon to press a kiss to his lips and lay her head on his shoulder when he knocked out the lights for bed.
He was sleeping alone tonight, for the next few nights, and for infinitely more after that. Shannon was gone. He would never see her again. And God, he missed her so damn much.
Jethro pressed his hand against his eyes in the chilling dark of the basement, clinging onto memories of her face, of the last time he'd seen her, comforting Kelly as he left for the gulf. He felt like breaking something.
The stairs creaked a little.
"Daddy?" Kelly asked, taking a few tentative steps and peeking through the banister.
"Teeth brushed?" he asked gruffly, subtly drawing his thumbs through his eyes to dry them and looking up at her. He folded his arms. Kelly nodded. She let go of the old banister and came down the stairs, pausing on the landing.
The sight of her in her favorite Little Mermaid pajamas with her hair brushed out neatly reminded him of Shannon. It was soothing in a way. Kelly seemed okay. He couldn't imagine how she could be. She'd lost her mother.
He pushed off the counter he was leaning against and walked towards her. She turned and scampered back up the stairs without a word, and he followed her down the hall to her room, a lump rising in his throat as he passed his and Shannon's.
Kelly climbed into bed and lay down, curling up with a hand under her head. Jethro sat down next to her, pushing her feet over playfully and squeezing her knee. Kelly muffled a giggle in the covers and stuck her tongue out at him.
He looked at her with a sad smile for a minute and reached out to ruffle her hair, brushing it off her face.
"You okay, Kelly?" he asked, his brow furrowing a little.
Kelly nodded, reaching past him to pull a book on her white bedside table towards her.
"Mommy and I were reading this together before," Kelly stopped and her lip shook a little. Gibbs touched her cheek again comfortingly. "Before the car accident. It's called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," she looked hesitant as she sat up a little and placed it in his lap. "Can we finish it? I want to know if Aslan helps the Pevensies get the bad witch."
Jethro touched the book, something Shannon had held every night while he'd been away, and looked down at it, casually finding the marked page. He gave Kelly a mock stern look.
"Scooch," he ordered, and she scrambled over, beaming at him. Jethro settled the book on his knees, squinting a little at the small letters, and lifted his arm around Kelly's shoulders as she snuggled into his side.
"I'm really good at reading now," she informed him, taking half of the book in her small hand and resting her head against his shoulder. "Now we must get back to Edmund. When he had been made to walk far further than he had ever known than anybody could walk, the Witch at last halted in a dark valley…"
Jethro leaned his head back against her headboard as he listened to her clear, familiar voice reading the fantasy book to him. He just looked at her, as if he might never see her again, so relieved that she was safe and happy—or at the very least safe.
He knew without asking Kelly didn't want to go to sleep. He didn't know if she was scared or sad or angry, but he'd do anything for her at the moment, and when she yawned, her sleepy voice starting to stumble over words, he took the reins, keeping his voice quiet and steady as he read through the next chapter.
"…if the Professor was right, it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia," Jethro finished softly; well aware Kelly had fallen fast asleep pages ago.
He shut the book silently and slipped his arms under her, tucking her under her clean and warm sheets carefully. He moved off the bed with as little jolting as possible and reached down to stroke her hair, sighing heavily as he looked at her peaceful, sleeping form.
He felt so alone. He felt like nothing without Shannon. He couldn't braid hair or paint nails. Hell, he wasn't even good at communication.
And now all of it, everything from painted nails to boys to telling her that life sucked sometimes, was up to him.
His eyes were burning relentlessly again as he bent over to kiss her forehead, murmuring 'sleep tight' against her cheek and soundlessly turning off the lamp on her bedside table. He left her door open and the hall night light on as he left, and it bothered him to realize he didn't really know if she still liked it like that.
He'd been away too long.
He hadn't been here when they needed him.
Feeling empty, at a loss, and hurting in every way possible, Jethro stretched out on what was once their bed and pulled her pillow towards him, resting his head on it, closing his eyes as he inhaled the fading scent of rose petals and Obsession perfume.
He turned his face into the pillow, stricken, as it hit him full force, like a ton of bricks. The loneliness, the sadness, the guilt and anger. He clenched his fists in the pillow and cried for her. His Shannon.
He didn't hear the thump, or the footsteps in the hall, until he heard her call his name.
Her little voice was shaking.
He took a deep breath and cleared his throat, turning his head slightly.
"Yeah?" He asked gruffly, pushing himself up a little more to look at her. "Kelly?" he asked hoarsely, squinting in the dark. "Come here," he ordered, motioning towards him.
She came forward, slowly at first, and then faster as she climbed on the bed and crawled up next to him, kneeling by his stomach.
"What's wrong, honey?" he asked quietly, reaching up to rub his face inconspicuously in the dark.
"I wanted to be brave," she said softly, and he had to strain to hear her, "like you. But," she bowed her head a little and her voice trembled. "I miss Mommy," she whispered, and her words were watery and tearful.
He reached out and pulled Kelly towards him, always loathe to see her cry, no matter what the reason. He knew he couldn't stop these tears. He could try his best to help.
"Ah, Kelly," he murmured, hugging her and kissing the top of her head as she cried, her tears seeping into his shirt and Shannon's pillow. He wondered if Kelly had cried at all since it happened. He could barely recall how long it had been now, between him getting the news and finally arriving stateside.
He tucked his daughter's head under his chin and stroked her hair, staring at the opposite wall.
"I miss mommy, too," he told her hoarsely, trying to find some way to ease the pain.
This is a Jibbs-centric story. I tried to go in a direction that hasn't been done before. There will be a few more explanations in the next chapter because that is when they become pertinent.