Chapter 16: It's Late, And Early

"I'm from Shannon…"

Gibbs stopped and stood still, but his thoughts were racing a thousand miles an hour…

He remembered lying on an ER gurney with two bullets in him, drifting in and out of consciousness. But he also remembered clearly hearing his beloved late wife's voice, and vividly remembered seeing her standing right in front of him. "I'll find you someone very, very special…" she had said before she vanished into the mist. "I'll send her to you, Jethro... And I'll find a way to make sure you know it's her…"

The entire memory revelation had stopped Gibbs cold in his tracks.

Emily had still been talking, but Gibbs suddenly realized that he hadn't heard a word she'd said.

"Jethro?" She asked with a quizzical look. "Are you… OK?"

Recovering quickly, Gibbs cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I'm fine. You said you were from…" he halted, unable to actually let that name leave his lips.

"From… Shannon," Emily continued, albeit warily. "Shannon, Michigan. That's my home town. It's a tiny little place on the Southern shore of Lake Huron. Guess it's where I got my love of the water. We had this little town square, not much more than a big clock and a few park benches, but it was right on the waterfront. I used to spend hours down there, watching all the freighters go by…" She paused. The noticed that Gibbs' demeanor had definitively changed, but she was still unable to read him. "Hey, you sure you're alright?"

She worried that she had done or said something to upset him… but had no idea what. But the changes in him were clear… His body language had stiffened, and his full attention seemed to be elsewhere.

"I'm sorry," he said, shrugging off her concern. "Yeah, really, I'm fine. Guess I am just a little tired." His answer was casual, but the dialogue going on inside his head was anything but. The thought that this lovely woman had been sent to him, on purpose, was for some reason frightening and very unsettling. However, he could not deny the overwhelming attraction either. So now he looked at Emily McLaren in a whole new light. Could it really be? He knew that no one would ever take Shannon's place in his heart… but having Emily show up in his life had been the first time in years that he had felt such warmth… like his soul was thawing out… Could she really be someone he could trust? Completely? Someone who would always be with him, never leave him, never betray him? Could Emily really be someone he could… love?

Emily saw his intense blue eyes swirling with a myriad of thoughts, but he didn't say another word. He just looked at her… in a way that he had never looked at her before…

She finally registered his words… Maybe I am a little tired…" She broke his entrancing gaze and looked down, checking her watch. She gasped to see how incredibly late it was… or incredibly early, depending on one's point of view…

"Oh my God…" she said, alarmed. "Jethro, I had no idea it had gotten so late! Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to overstay my welcome. I… I'm gonna go now…" She stood up and moved towards the stairs. She stopped and gave him a warm, concerned look. "You.. are OK… right?"

Gibbs gave a dismissive half grin. "Yeah. I am. Thanks for bringing my phone back."

She still couldn't get over the way he was looking at her. "No problem," she replied as she flashed a warm smile of her own. "Goodnight Jethro."

"G'nite… Emily," Gibbs answered softly as he watched her climb the stairs. He heard the front door shut, and sat back down with a tired sigh. He had entertained ideas of having Emily stay, but he had far too much information to process. And besides, he suddenly realized that he was absolutely exhausted.

He stood up and slowly trudged up the stairs, clicking off lights as he went. He toed off his shoes, laid his gun on the coffee table, and all but crashed onto the sofa.

He was fast asleep within seconds.

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*SUNDAY MORNING*

Emily squinted as she entered the busy coffee shop. She perched her sunglasses on top of her head, trying to shake away the cobwebs from her lack of sleep. This was a popular Starbucks, and there was quite a line. So she took her place and deeply inhaled the heavenly scents of the freshly brewed coffee creations as she patiently waited her turn.

But then she smelled a hint of something else… something familiar… perfume…

Emily's brain quickly connected the dots, and she looked at the woman standing in front of her.

"Hello Diane," Em said calmly.

The red-haired woman turned and recognition flashed in her eyes. "Well, well…" Diane replied slowly. "If it isn't… the beaver."

Emily smiled sweetly. "Yep, that's me."

Diane's critical eyes swept up and down over Emily's lean frame before focusing on her head. "Nice hair sweetie," she quipped sarcastically. "But my red is all real."

Emily maintained her smile. "So's mine," she retorted with a note of smugness.

"Well, good for you," Diane all but sneered. Then she turned around dismissively, intending to ignore any further interaction with the younger woman behind her. But that was not to be…

A few silent moments went by, and the line slowly crept towards the service counter. Both women took a few steps forward.

"I'll take good care of him, and I won't hurt him," Emily said, just loud enough for Diane to hear her.

Diane spun around to face her. "What?" She demanded.

Emily remained calm and her words were heartfelt. "Jethro. I said I'll take good care of him. And I'll never hurt him. I just wanted you to know that."

Diane huffed. "You really think I give a shit?" She demanded, her eyes narrowing.

"Yeah, I do," Emily responded, then paused for a moment before continuing. "If you didn't still care about him, it wouldn't still hurt. And if it didn't still hurt, you'd have no reason to lash out at him like you do, every chance you get. So yeah, you do care. A lot."

The brutal honesty of those words stung, and caught Diane completely off guard. She opened her mouth to let some stinging retort fly out, but nothing came. Instead, she actually caught her breath slightly as she felt the first rush of tears begin to spring to her eyes, but quickly willed them back. After all, she was no soft, meek little push-over. But she had to admit that this woman was completely different from anyone else that she had ever met. And she also had to admit that if there was ever anyone who was absolutely perfect for one Leroy Jethro Gibbs, it was probably this woman standing right here in front of her.

"Ma'am?" Came a lilting call from behind her, the voice laden with thinly veiled annoyance. "Ma'am? Can I take you order please, Ma'am?"

Diane whirled around and glared at the skinny little blond teenager at the counter. The poor girl had no idea that she was about to the recipient of the full brunt of Diane's venting fury.

"Oh, don't you 'Ma'am' me you anorexic little twit," Diane snapped loudly. The frail girl shrank back slightly and her heavily mascaraed eyes got a little wider. "And you can just lose that snippy attitude of yours. I am the customer here Missy, and you are the hired help… You are here for me… So I would suggest you shut the hell up, take my order, and get me my damn coffee. And not only should you make it snappy, you damn well better get it right! Is that clear?"

The blond girl looked shell-shocked as she meekly nodded. Diane rattled off her order, and the girl rapidly wrote it down. Emily lowered her head, keeping her face hidden, so that no one would see the slight appreciative grin on her face. Geez, this woman sure was hell on wheels… no shrinking violet, no way. Not Diane. Em had to admit that she actually admired that…

Diane moved over, and Emily placed her order, which sounded quite simplistic compared to the paragraph that Diane had taken to order hers. The two women stood side by side in silence, waiting for their cups to emerge.

Once Diane had her coffee in hand, she turned to leave. But she stopped briefly, right in front of Emily. The two red-heads looked at each other for a brief moment, both seeming to convey some kind of silent understanding.

"Thank you… Emily," Diane finally said sincerely. And then just a quickly, the impromptu unguarded moment was over. Diane squared her shoulders, turned away, and strode quickly from the shop.

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Gibbs picked up his phone several times during the morning, looked at Emily's number, but never pressed the send button. He wasn't trying to avoid her, it was quite the opposite. He really wanted to see her. Or at least talk to her. Just hear her voice… But the problem was, he just didn't know what to say. Verbal communication had never been his strong suit. He was much better at doing things than he was talking about them. So, he made the logical decision… play to his strong suit…

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It was just after dark when Emily came up on deck. A gentle breeze was filtering in from the Southwest, bringing a soft warm air that lightly twanged in the rigging lines, and carried the alluring smell of salty sand and distant beaches.

She was wearing a light, gauzy sleeveless sundress, one of her favorite comfortable things to wear. She had a glass of deep red Merlot in one hand, and her laptop in the other. She curled up on one of the cushioned deck benches, roughly amidships, under the cover of the extended bimini top. Her hair hung loose and a few tendrils fluttered in the faint breeze as she opened her computer and let it boot up. Her curly haired little black dog Samson soon bounded up onto the deck with her, his collar tags jangling gently as he curled up and settled beside her on the oversized cushion. It was a clear night, illuminated by a ¾ moon, and the inky black sky was blazoned with a carpet of bright white stars.

It wasn't long before she realized that she had company…

Gibbs stood there, on the dock, gazing at the vision of loveliness that was Emily McLaren. She returned his gaze, her eyes affectionate, but quizzical.

"Permission to come aboard," he asked, his blue eyes seeming to sparkle even in the shadowy darkness of the dock.

Emily smiled, and lightly rolled her eyes. "I told you Jethro, you don't have to ask," she said warmly. "You're welcome aboard anytime. Come on up."

Gibbs nimbly boarded the big boat, and slowly approached her.

"You really need that?" He asked, pointing to her computer.

She looked over at the glowing screen, then back up at him. "No… not really."

There was that same look on his face that she had seen earlier, when she was leaving his basement… that same odd, enigmatic expression. And still just as unreadable.

"Good," was all he said. He reached over ad folded the top of the computer shut. Then he reached out and took the wine glass from her hand, walked across the deck, and set it on the chart table. Emily began to get concerned. What was he up to? Was he upset?

Her mind raced. Perhaps he had heard about the exchange with Diane at Starbucks… Was he upset about that? She looked at him intently as he came back and stood in front of her.

"Come here," he said quietly, and curled a finger up, beckoning her from her seated position.

"Am I in trouble?" She asked as she stood up, her expression one of confused concern.

Gibbs merely gazed at her, then reached out and brushed back a loose lock of auburn hair, tucking it gently behind her ear. She nearly shuddered at the intensity of the brief physical contact.

"Yeah," Gibbs breathed as he moved even closer. He slid one arm behind her and pulled her warm body against his. "Yeah, you are…"

Emily had the chance to finally see the unmasked desire in his blue eyes before he swooped down and claimed her mouth in a hungry, passionate kiss…

A/N: OK, I lied… THIS was the last chapter before we go to the 'M' rating… Eagerly awaiting your feedback and reviews! Lots more chapters to follow… and soon! Thanks for reading!

-NiteJasmine