Disclaimer: NCIS doesn't belong to me.
Author's Notes: This is just a small coda for a much larger story I've been working on. Leave a review if you would like to see more.
The flight was long and boring; but what could she have expected after flying over 15 hours to San Diego, California. But such was life at the moment, if she wanted answers than she had no choice but to suck it up and make do. She smiled at the customs official as he handed back her passport and waved her through into the airport. Grabbing her bag off the luggage carousel, she focused her attention on finding the car rental desk; she had a car waiting for her and she had a long drive south ahead of her to see a man about an ex-Marine.
Once she was in the car, she quickly called her uncle to let him know that she had arrived safely and made promises to call again once she had arrived at her final destination. Pulling out of the parking deck, she headed in the direction of Interstate 5 also known as the San Diego Freeway which would take her into Mexico and one step closer to her destination.
Mexico, Spring 2001
Beach, beer, and sun what more could a guy want. Well, maybe a nice Señorita to look at would be nice as well. But regardless, Mike Franks had everything he could possibly want at the moment, so he was content. However, the silence of the beach wasn't to last; Mike turned his head at the sound of a car on the dirt road leading up to his little beach bungalow…shack. With the sun in his eyes, he waited for the owner of the car to make an appearance; although if Mike was honest with himself, he had a fair amount of curiosity at who could be visiting him on a remote beach in Mexico. As a figure emerged from the vehicle, Mike quickly called out by way of greeting.
"Whatever it is, I don't want what you are selling."
"In that case, I must consider myself lucky, for I'm not selling anything." A honeyed, but posh English accent replied in turn.
Mike pushed himself up from his chair and walked toward the car and its owner, a young woman with strawberry blonde hair pulled back in a messy bun and eyes hidden behind too large sunglasses. As Mike walked closer, he cataloged every piece of her that was not covered up or hidden under her clothes…the shape of her nose to how she carried herself to her general appearance.
The retired NCIS agent stopped a few feet from the vehicle and spoke. "If you aren't selling anything, then why are you here?"
"I'm looking for information and have been told that you are the man that I needed to see if I wanted answers."
"What kind of information?" Mike asked, his curiosity furthered perked by what he could possibly know that could be of interest to the young English woman before him.
"On a former Marine…" She replied, letting her voice trail off at the end of her statement.
"I know a lot of Marines, former and otherwise; you're going to have to be more specific, girl."
"One Leroy Jethro Gibbs."
The name caused Mike to pause, and look closer at the young woman. As he continued to stare at the woman, he wondered if it could be possible, if she could be the little girl that was lost so long ago. Pushing her sunglasses to the crown of her head, she blinked against the brightness of her surroundings before looking at the older man in the eye.
Mike let his eyes take in the clarity of her bright blue eyes…her father's eyes. As he shuffled forward to get a closer look at her face, she stood her ground and let his eyes wonder across the whole of her face. She was older than the last time he had seen her; a time when her mother was alive and her father was off fighting in a desert war, but Mike could see both of her parents in her. After what seemed like a small lifetime for the young woman, the older man finally spoke again.
"I never stopped looking for you, child." Mike's voice was rough with emotion. The woman had nodded in understanding and gave him a small smile in reply. "What happened to you…after?"
"Hell; then salvation." Mike frowned at the hell part of her remark, but didn't comment on it, for this meeting wasn't about her, it was about her father. "I have a lot of questions, and I just want to understand the man he became."
"Well, grab your bag and come on into the house. How long were you planning on staying?"
"A week if you would have me." She replied, grinning.
Mike shook his head at her expression; it was one that he had rarely seen on her father's face in all the time that he had known him. After she had removed her carryon from the front passenger seat, Mike tugged it from her hands, turning on his heel as he walked back toward the house. The young woman blinked at the gesture, but followed without comment. She watched as he tossed her bag on the guest bed, before grabbing another beer from the kitchen.
"You thirsty?" Mike asked, looking in the fridge for something that wasn't alcoholic.
"Beer's fine." Came her reply. Mike glanced back at her position in the kitchen doorway, and raised his eyebrow.
"You're a little…young, girl."
"Legal drinking age in Britain is 18 and I'm 18 and a British subject, so…"
Mike nodded at her response, unable to argue with her; but at the same time, not really caring if she drank or not. If she had the determination to travel over five thousand miles looking for answers, who was he to decide if she had the ability to drink a beer or not. Mike handed her a beer from the fridge and motioned for her to move back onto the deck overlooking the beach.
"So how did you know to come and find me?"
"My uncle; he's been compiling a file on my father, since I was found. He decided to give it to me for my 18th birthday. Said it was time for me know." She replied, her attention focused on playing with the beer label rather than looking at Mike as she spoke.
"A lot of his stuff is classified; your uncle must have some friends in high places to get that kind of information."
"He works for the British government. Always has…says that it's a family tradition."
"So what do you want to know?"
"Why? I just want to know why."
"I had the medical examiner and the other NIS agents to lie. When we found the car, your mum's body was in the backseat, the NIS agent was dead in the front and you were no where to be found. After hours of searching, with no trace of where you disappeared to, I decided that it would be best if I told your dad that you died in the car with your mom. And I spent the rest of my years at NCIS looking for a trace of you, and I never found one."
She nodded her head and looked at him as she spoke. "Not about that, none of that is important. I want to know why he stopped loving my mum, why he chose to forget about her."
"Oh, kid. He never forgot about your mother, that's why none of his marriages worked out, because those women weren't Shannon. And he never forgot her, he still lives by a set of rules, girl. He honors your mother every day because he remembers what she gave him."
The young woman fell silent after Mike's explanation, choosing not to respond to his assessment of the type of man her father had become following the lost of his wife and daughter. She had come for answers, not an argument about a life that she knew nothing about. Taking a pull from the bottle, she focused on watching the rise and fall of the ocean waves in the distance.
As she stared out into the far distance, Mike took the opportunity to simply watch her. He could see in the way that she was, that she had survived against the odds and came out on top…that those experiences had helped to shape her into the woman that sat in front of him.
"What was your salvation, Kelly?" Mike finally asked, a few hours later.
Kelly looked up from eating her dinner and smiled. "My dad; he found me and saved me and loved me."
Mike nodded his head in understanding. "Does he know you're here?"
Kelly shook her head slightly at the question, biting the side of her lower lip as she did so. "I'm supposed to be with his uncle, like I am every Easter break; but Uncle Clive knew that I needed to make this trip and he let me go."
"Are you happy?"
"I love my life as it is now, just as I loved my life as it was then; things changed, and I adapted. But if I was given the choice to go back and have both of my parents again…I don't know if I could give up the family I have now, especially my dad. I don't think I could walk away from him."
"Your dad?" Mike asked, wanting rather than needing to know the story of his friend's daughter. For Mike Franks had no illusions that after she was gone that he could or would call his old Probie and tell him. It wasn't his place, and furthermore, it wasn't his story to tell. It was Kelly's and she had a right to choose when, where and if ever she told her father that she had lived, where her mother had died.
"The man who rescued me from hell; he has loved and protected for the last decade and I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. But to answer the real question you are asking, he formally adopted me under British law when I was ten. He's been my dad for the last eight years. And as for the how…I couldn't tell you, it's classified and complicated."
Mike stayed silent as he processed the information, knowing that he wasn't going to get any other answers from the girl about her adopted family or the life that she had lead in the years following her disappearance. Kelly picked up her dinner plate and grabbed Mike's as she passed on her way to kitchen. Mike didn't try to stop her, if she wanted to clean up after him than that was fine by him. A few moments later, Kelly stuck her head outside the door and told the older man that she was going to bed and that she would see him in the morning.
Over the course of that week, Kelly spent a lot of time just sitting with Mike and watching the ocean, sometimes they would talk about her father's history and the bits of his life that she wanted to know more about than what could be gleamed from simply reading his file and other times only the sound of the waves breaking against the shore could be heard. Regardless of whether they spoke a word to each other or not, the pair enjoyed a companionable existence, just drinking beer and eating whatever food the other had decided to make for a meal.
Kelly left on the Saturday following her arrival, she had a life that she had to get back to in England, and she knew that her uncle would question why she choose to stay longer than she intended to.
"Don't be a stranger, Kelly."
"I'll try not to be. And I wouldn't mind being able to talk to you every now and again. I'm giving you this mobile phone, so I can keep in touch with you." Kelly told the older man as she handed over a box containing the mobile phone. "You can't say no, please, take it for me."
Mike begrudgingly took the box from her hand and placed it on the hood of her rental car before pulling her into a hug and placing a kiss on her temple.
"Stay safe, girl. I'm happy that to know that you're alive and that you were taken care of. I would hate to have to bury you now."
Kelly gave him a small laugh, wiping the tears from her eyes. Taking a step forward, she lightly kissed his weather worn cheek before moving away to get into the car. Just before she slid into the driver's seat, Mike asked her one final question.
"What's your dad's name?"
"DiNozzo. Tony DiNozzo. Bye, Mike. And do me a favor; try not to kill your liver."
"I make no promises, Kelly Gibbs."
"Not surprised." She grinned as she closed her door and started the car. Mike watched as she turned the car around and drove back down the dirt road toward the main road. While he was happy to know what had happened to her, at the same time, he wasn't. He had lied, and his lie had caused a friend to forever mourn a daughter that wasn't truly dead, only semi-missing.
Holland Park, London, 2001
"How was Mexico?" An older gentleman asked as he entered the study, a large room situated at the back of an equally large townhouse in an affluent area of London. Although the walls and furniture were dark in color, the large bay windows afforded a massive amount of sunlight and an almost panoramic view of the garden.
"It is what it is." Kelly replied, taking a quick glance at her Uncle Clive before returning her attention back to looking out the window. Clive Paddington watched as his niece continued to stare out onto the garden, seeming to curl into herself as she tried to stop the tears that were threatening to come.
"Hey, now, don't cry. Come here, little one." Quickly crossing the room, he joined her on the low sofa and pulled her into his arms, rubbing his hands up and down her back in a soothing manner.
Kelly curled into the older man, taking comfort from the warmth and love that seemed to surround her while in his embrace. Clive held the young woman as she cried through the pain that she was feeling in the wake of her visit. Eventually, the cries became sniffles and finally Kelly spoke again, her accent deeper than normal due to crying.
"I got my answers, Uncle Clive, but I also got more questions. Questions…that only he can answer, and I don't think I'm ready to face him. I chose to stay, because in this family, there weren't any expectations of me, I was Kelly and Kelly was all I was ever going to be. With them, maybe I would Kelly, but also maybe I would be my mum. And I'm not her; she died and I'm not sure that they could accept that."
Pulling the girl's face away from his chest so that they were face to face, Clive cupped her cheeks as he spoke. "Shhh, little one. I wish I could tell you something to make this heartache go away, but I can't, sweetheart. You were dealt a shite hand in life and all you can do is make the best of it. And I think both your dad and you have done an amazing job of it. Now, I want you to go wash your face and lay down. I'll have Hannah bring you up something."
Kelly nodded in agreement and placed a light kiss on his cheek before moving off the sofa and toward the study door. "Goodnight, Uncle Clive."
"Goodnight, Kelly." Clive replied with a small smile as he watched her leave the room. He waited a moment, listening for the faint tread of her step as she ascended the stairs to her second storey bedroom.