A/N: Another LFWS entry - it's kind of the only thing keeping me in the habit of writing regularly at the moment! I swear I'll start something longer soon. :-)
This prompt was to do a situation where a character is forced to use one sense when he/she would normally use all five (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste). Sounded simple enough, but it ended up being much harder than I thought! The "simple" stuff always is, I guess.
Hope you enjoy it - let me know what you think! :-)
The only thing that ever made sense in my life
Is the sound of my little girl laughing
Through the window of a summer night.
-- Everclear, "Songs From An American Movie - Part 1"
His ears are still ringing with mortar fire when Gibbs finally drags himself back to the barracks. After four straight days patrolling the outskirts of Fallujah, a vast majority of that spent motionless and peering into the scope of a rifle, all he wants is to hit the head and hit the rack, preferably in that order. Food will have to wait. Right now he'd probably end up nodding off face-first into a pile of the slop the Corps passes off as scrambled eggs.
He yawns his way through a cold shower, then makes his way over to his bunk, sand still gritting between his toes. The goddamn stuff is everywhere - in his hair, beneath his nails, embedded in the lining of his pack and gumming up the inside of his weapon. He's so tired his eyes feel scratchy, and he wouldn't be surprised to find sand up inside his eyelids too. Lately, he's taken to dreaming of grass and smooth cement. Screw beach vacations - Kelly can ride just as well in the mountains.
"Mail call, Gunny!"
"Up here." Gibbs pats the edge of his bunk, and looks down to see Sanders grinning at him.
"Looks like another one of them tapes." Sanders tosses a familiar padded envelope up to land at Gibbs' side.
"Looks like it."
"How's that little girl of yours?"
Gibbs smiles. "Beautiful. Brilliant."
Sanders barks a laugh. "Must take after her momma, then."
"Thank God," Gibbs retorts, but he laughs too, despite his weariness. Sanders wanders off to finish his deliveries - neither rain nor sleet nor, apparently, sand, will keep him from his appointed rounds.
Gibbs retrieves his knife from his utility belt and slits open the envelope, pulling out a single cassette tape. "To Daddy - Love Kelly" is scrawled in shaky script across the label - at least, he assumes that's what it says. Peering closer, it's entirely possible the tape is addressed to "Daffy". Shannon's last letter had informed him that Kelly was starting to learn cursive: apparently, like her father, penmanship is not her strongest subject.
He drops the tape in his old cassette player and slips on his headphones, then settles back onto his pillow. The weak fan clipped to his bedrail isn't worth a damn against the heat; despite the shower he's already beginning to sweat; he's pretty sure there's sand in his ear. Doesn't matter. He's so damn tired, and he has more than earned his time with his girls.
He presses Play.
The tape begins, and the scratchy hiss of the first seconds is enough to lift him out of the barracks, out of the grit and the heat and the stink of too many men living too close together.
"Is it on, Mommy?"
A laugh. "It's on, Kel. Go ahead."
Pulling the cassette player close to his side, Gibbs closes his eyes and leaves Iraq.
"One hundred and twenty seven more days to go, Daddy! Mommy and I make X's on the calendar every day and write how many days are left until you come home."
One hundred fifteen now, baby girl, Gibbs thinks. The mail takes its sweet time finding us out here.
Tapes and headphones are a hollow substitute for flesh and blood, but like every good Marine, Gibbs does the best he can with what he's given. He gathers everything he aches to do - see Shannon's languid smile, taste the salt of her lips, feel Kelly's arms wrapped around his legs - and conjures it from the tinny echo of the old tape player. The sound of them is all he has out here, and Gibbs is long practiced at letting it flood his body until he can almost convince himself he doesn't notice what is missing.
You have a great imagination, Jethro. Shannon had said that when Kelly was barely three months old, tiny and new enough that they still curled up at night with the baby monitor beside them, listening to her breathe. Where do you come up with those stories you tell her? Gibbs had laughed it off, buried his face in her hair and told her that princesses and castles were pretty standard stuff. Didn't take much imagination to tell a fairy tale.
But Shannon always sees things in him that no one else can, even Gibbs himself. She was right, and he is grateful for it now, because if he couldn't create five senses out of one he might go crazy with missing them.
Kelly giggles in his ear, and he swears he can smell her shampoo.
Shannon is speaking; she's trying to sound light, but something is off. Since he can't see her face, he has learned instead to read the timbre of her voice. He knows the melancholy that means I miss you; the good-natured frustration that means your daughter is driving me crazy and you need to get your ass back here; the wistful tone that says what her words cannot with Kelly sitting right beside her.
Oh love, the things you are missing.
Is it worth it?
He lets her voice ask the question, because he can't. He's afraid he knows the answer.
"Tell Daddy what you're going to play for him." No, this is something different- a tension, a tightness. Gibbs has a pretty good idea of what she isn't saying. She's scheduled to testify against the drug lord in two weeks - she's alone, and she's afraid. She'd never let Kelly hear her say it, but he knows. He lifts a hand to touch her face, to tell her it will be alright; his fingers meet empty air and he is forced to remember where he is.
The things he is missing.
Kelly sighs, the long-suffering annoyance of someone who is Putting Up With Mom. "Daddy, I learned a new song but it's not perfect yet, but Mommy says I should play it for you anyway."
The piano bench creaks in the background, the screws he didn't get around to tightening complaining at the movement as she settles into place. Then she plays the first tentative notes, and Gibbs, who does not cry, settles for biting the inside of his cheek until it's safe to breathe again. She's playing with both hands; she's playing chords; she's reading music. It is the first song he cannot imagine playing with her. The first time he can't feel her fingers beneath his own, marching across the keys.
It's yet another thing he has to recreate out here in this wasteland; he hears in each note all the "practice time" they could have had. When he is home, she loves to drag him by the hand to the piano and hop up on his lap so they can play together. Her little hands sit atop his first, fingers splayed to ride along as he pretends to play the notes, wiggling in glee at the discordant mess he makes. Then they switch, her fingers disappearing beneath his calloused palms as she shows him the right way to play.
Shannon is clapping as if their daughter has just performed at Carnegie Hall, and the bench squeaks again as Kelly comes back to the recorder. "I'll have it perfect when you get home, Daddy! And I have another new one too, but I only know one hand of that one so I have to practice some more before I can play it for you. But I'll play it next time, OK? I miss you, Daddy!"
"Kisses for Daddy," Shannon says like she always does, and the two make kissing noises into the microphone, Kelly's giggles underscored by Shannon's rich laughter.
"I love you, Daddy! Remember, one hundred twenty seven days!"
"Love you, Jethro!"
The tape clicks off and they are gone just that quickly.
Love you, Jethro.
"Love you," he murmurs, listening to his own voice hang in the silence they have left behind. "Love you."
He rewinds the tape, starts it again, and lets Kelly play him to sleep.