Picking Up the Pieces

Tagged to episode 8x01 "The Spider and the Fly." Gibbs helps clean up Jackson's store, and reflects on his showdown with Paloma. One-shot.

Author's Note: I have mixed feelings about this one.

The strangest things always come back to him later, after the dust settles. When you're busting your ass working a case – head-smacking your agents, interrogating suspects – there's no time to think about anything else. But later, after the bad guys have been captured and he's in his basement working on another boat, the dark possibilities always find him. His mind always lingers over the what-ifs, the moments in the case that almost kept his day from ending like any other.

It's no different this time. There's no boat, but wood still finds its way into Gibbs's hands. And as he's prying boards off the windows of his father's store, his mind suddenly goes back to the case with the little blind girl.

Six years later, hot anger still courses through him when he thinks that the girl's father – her own father – had been behind it all. He can still see the startled confusion on Tony and Kate's faces when he grabbed Captain Watson and threw him against the wall. Tony didn't understand, then, why that case effected him so much, and Kate... Kate never knew, did she?

Gibbs grips another board tightly in his hands, and it feels good to have something to take his anger out on. He focuses on the strain in his arms as the nails give out, and the satisfying splintering noises as he rips the wood loose and drops it on the floor. But over that sound, he can still hear his own words to Watson.

"Don't you dare tell me there's a reason for you throwing away what you had."

He resists the urge to head-smack himself. He deserves it. Turning around, Gibbs takes in Jackson's ruined store – counter and walls pockmarked with bullet holes, shelves splintered to pieces, broken glass all over the floor, and Jackson slowly sweeping it up. A bag of Sara Lee had burst open in the shooters' rampage, and stale slices of bread are scattered here and there, like tiny white flags of surrender. Gibbs shakes his head at the sight of so much destruction. He should have known what a mess he'd leave when he didn't follow his own advice. When he threw away what he had.

It was true, what he said to Alejandro. "My dad – never an easy guy." That part was true, at least. But the rest of it? "Things get rough, I can still go talk to him." That part he said purely to provoke Alejandro into killing him. And it almost worked. If Alejandro had only known how far it was from the truth...

His breath hitches as he remembers arriving in Stillwater with Ziva and McGee after some thirty years away. Seeing how little the town had changed. Coming face-to-face with Jackson after seventeen years of... nothing. No visits, not a single phone call, nothing but throwing away what he had. "We haven't talked since the funerals."

The guilt almost overwhelms him, and he quickly turns back to the windows. Then he hears Jackson chuckling softly behind him.

"Heh, would you look at this, Leroy?" Glancing over his shoulder, Gibbs sees him bend down and pick up a can from the floor. "They must have fired three rounds into this place, and this can of beans doesn't even have one dent in it." He sets the can down on the counter and goes back to sweeping. "Think I'll fix it for dinner tonight. Nothin' better than some Boston-baked beans with a little honey mixed in, right?"

Gibbs has to smile. He had looked around and seen only the ruined store, but leave it to his dad to find something salvageable, something worth saving out of the mess he'd made.

As he starts in on another board, he thinks back to a few of the fathers he's encountered on the job... Captain Watson, who arranged for his little girl to be kidnapped. DiNozzo Sr., who didn't even bother to call when his own son caught the plague and nearly died from it. Eli David, who sent his last surviving child on a suicide mission to Somalia and left her there to die. He wouldn't blame them if they went as long without speaking to their fathers as he had with his. But him... God, what excuse did he have? Don't you dare tell me there's a reason

"Appreciate you stayin' to help," Jackson adds, giving the pile of debris he's swept up a final push out the door.

"Sure, Dad," Gibbs replies. "Thought maybe we could fix a few things."

And it's clear from Jackson's smile that he knows his son doesn't just mean fixing the store. He means fixing something else, something that he had almost thrown away with both hands, but then had found was still there. A little crumpled, like a tossed-out newspaper, but still salvageable. Still something worth saving.