Ch. 1

He woke from the depth of his deep sleep. It had to have been just a bad dream. The pain though was an instant reminder that it had to be reality. He slowly recalled the last thoughts his muddled mind could grasp.

He was running, not too anywhere, but more away from something. He was a Marine. He feared nothing, but still he ran. He didn't want to remember why. Something in his gut twisted knowing the reason was something to change his life forever.

"You're awake!" a white clad nurse appeared adjusting some of his IV lines. "Try not to struggle. I know that tube is bothersome, but we need the doctor to see you, before we remove it."

Gibbs blinked. He didn't have the strength yet to pull at the tube in his throat. He had lots of questions. None though that he wanted to hear the answer to.

"Speaking of the doctor," the nurse turned as a tall sandy haired man entered the room. "This is Captain Gelfand, your doctor," she patted the injured man's shoulder lightly. "Looks like our patient is back with us," she smiled at the young doctor.

"Welcome back Gunny," he greeted looking into Gibbs eyes with a light. "I'm sure you'll have a lot of questions, but let's make sure you are ready to breathe on your own first."

Gibbs laid stiffly as he watched every move the doctor made as he examined him. He tried to keep any sign of pain or discomfort from showing the doctor was skilled enough to recognize areas that were still tender. "No need to be so brave, you're healing nicely," he gave a small smile.

Captain Todd Gelfand nodded to the nurse who then turned to close the curtain to offer them privacy as they pulled the tube and prepared to bring the Marine up to date on his condition.

They removed the tube slowly allowing him time to adjust to breathing on his own, watching closely for signs he needed assistance. They supplied him oxygen via a nasal cannula to keep him comfortable. Once he seemed to relax they reassessed him. Happy that his vitals were normal the nurse gave Gibbs a smile and left the doctor to talk with him.

"Do you remember what happened to you?" he asked.

Gibbs nodded. 'Yes. My family," he paused not wanting to voice the words he prayed weren't true and turning his head to the side.

"We'll talk about that later. Do you remember what happened to you?" the captain asked wanted to gauge the gunny's memory.

"Land mine," he croaked still trying to get his emotions in check, "must've triggered it as I ran past."

"Yes, you were fortunate to only sustain the head trauma and minor abrasions."

"Fortunate?" Gibbs glared. He shook his head. If having to live knowing he lost his family because he couldn't be there to protect them, even if it was something he couldn't have prevented, was fortunate he'd rather not be so.

"One step slower and you may have still survived minus a limb or two or even paralyzed," the doctor replied hoping to get the wounded man to realize that he was indeed a survivor.

Instead he watched the man turn his head away, despair clouding his eyes.

"Hey," he barked gaining Gibbs' attention. "You need to get yourself together and get stronger so you can get out this bed."

"Why?" Gibbs shook his head, the last words he'd heard before he took off running and the eyes of the lieutenant still haunting him. "Gunny there was an accident. Your wife and daughter…" The pause had told him all he needed to know that bastard drug lord had gotten to them.

"Your daughter's going to need her father," the captain's words snapped him back to the present.

"My daughter? Kelly? I thought," he struggled to comprehend the news that she was still alive. He began to push himself up to try and sit.

The captain move forward to help. As he situated him he asked, "You didn't know?"

Gibbs again shook his head, "I thought they both were killed in the accident. Shannon?" he asked, though he knew the answer. The doctor's downcast look and barely perceptible shake of the head was all the answer he needed.

Gibbs took a deep breath. He thought of Kelly. How long had he been in the hospital? Was she still in one too? If not where was she and who was taking care of her? She must be frightened and needed him.

As if reading his mind the doctor began to bring him up to speed. "You've been unconscious for three days. Your daughter was only mildly injured, a miracle if you had seen the wreckage. She's currently with her grandparents, Joann and Mack Fielding who are waiting to hear from us. I'm sure your nurse, Darlene went to call them after she left us."

Seeing Gibbs process the news, he added, "Now how about we work on getting you outta here?"

"Yeah," Gibbs nodded still stunned. Images of his daughter filled his mind and encouraged him to recover quickly so he could go home to her. It occurred to him that he'd eventually have to leave her again and return to duty. Mentally he calculated how long he had to his current stint was up and wondered if he could qualify for an honorable discharge, despite his last act if they considered the circumstances. Part of him, though wanted to return to make up to his fellow Marines for his lapse in judgment and taking himself out of action when he was supposed to be there for them.

Two days later he got to hear his daughter's voice. The emotions gripped his heart as he listened to her sadness. She missed her mother who was never coming back and her father who was still too far away.

The phone was taken away form him when her sobbing couldn't be controlled any more. He heard his mother-in-law, Joann talking softly to her attempting to soothe her. As her husband, Mack took over the call. "Jethro," he began, "This isn't easy for any of us."

Gibbs nodded his own face wet with tears, "I realize that Mack. Let her know I'll be there as soon as I can."

"We'll take care of her," he assured his son-in-law. Despite how much he and his wife had hated Gibbs for taking their girls away from them clear across the country, they knew that he was hurting as much as they were and would need their support to help put the pieces back together.

"Thank Mack. Tell Joann thanks from me, too," Gibbs knew Shannon's mom blamed him for tearing her family away and hoped that somehow they could mend fences and make a family again, if only for Kelly's sake.

It took two more weeks for him to get home. Once he spied Kelly searching for him standing on her toes looking in all directions, he dropped his duffle and ran to her. He swept her up and pulled her in close to his chest. Tears from grief and relief flowed as he hugged and kissed her.

"I missed you Daddy," she said into his shoulder as he hugged her tight.

"I missed you, too Sweetie," he replied finally pulling her back to look into her face. He gently wiped at the tears on her face as she lifted her hand to wipe at his own.

"Don't cry Daddy. Mommy's our angel now," she said trying to be brave. The quiver of her lip told him that she wasn't going to be brave for too much longer.

To distract her he led her back to where he'd dropped his bag. "How 'bout we get my bag and get home. I'm in need of a shower and I'd sure like to have a cup of coffee."

Kelly giggled. She may have only been eight years old, but she was well aware of how much her daddy loved his coffee. Sometimes her mommy even let her help make it. "I remember how make your coffee. 'Good and strong just like you', that's what Mommy used to say," she smiled through her tears.

Gibbs gave a short laugh hearing those words echo in his mind. They returned to where Mack and Joann stood waiting. He shook Mack's hand and leaned over to give Joann a quick peck on her cheek. She stood still allowing him the greeting, but was slow to react.

As they moved to exit the airport she grabbed his arm not carrying Kelly. He stopped and turned toward her.

"I'm sorry Jethro," her eyes filled with her own tears reflected the past years of animosity shared between them and the time missed being the family Shannon had wanted them to be.

He nodded. He didn't believe in apologies, but when it came to family he'd make an exception. "Me too," he told her knowing it was exactly what his wife would want from him.

Gibbs sat in the back seat, Kelly snuggled up next to him as close as her seat belt would allow. It didn't take too long before he recognized the slow rhythmic breathing of her being fast asleep.

Joann turned back and smiled as she saw Gibbs' head resting on his daughter's sleeping one. His eyes were closed making him look peaceful though she doubted he had let himself fall too deeply asleep As if sensing her watching, his eyes opened and she saw the sorrow and weariness that he must've been carrying alone accentuated by the red lines in them. He closed his eyes again content for the moment to be holding his daughter safely in his arms.

They arrived home though he wondered how much like home it would feel without his wife's presence. He unbuckled himself and Kelly easing her out without waking her. When they entered through the door he paused trying to feel for any sign of Shannon. Her touch was noticeable in every room, but he still longed for the spirit to fill the emptiness inside him.

Kelly woke rubbing her eyes on his shoulder. She looked up and said, "We're home."

It wasn't quite a question, but he knew she sensed the same void he felt.

"Yes we are. Why don't you go with Grandma and I'll be right down," he told her gently putting her down, releasing contact for the first time since he picked her up.

"Coffee?" she smiled tiredly but genuinely.

He nodded. "Sounds perfect. Just like you," he tapped her nose with his finger.

He watched as she followed her grandmother into the kitchen then took his duffle up the stairs. He paused at the door to the bedroom he had shared and wondered if he'd have the strength to enter it and face the loneliness that he'd find there.

He opened the door and took in a sharp breath because the scent of his wife wafted toward him. Her familiar lavender scented perfume seemed to cling to every part of the room. He dropped his bag by the bed and longed to crawl into it and lose himself in the memories they had shared there.

Instead he went to his dresser to get clean clothes to change into after his shower. As the water sprayed down washing away the grit of travel it also eased some of the tension that had built over the weeks of pent up worry over Kelly. He had to admit she appeared than he thought, but he didn't know how much she really understood.

He smelled the coffee as he descended the stairs. "Here's your coffee," Kelly smiled holding his cup between two hands.

He quickly took it from her knowing it was too hot for her to hold for too long. "Thank you," he returned her smile taking a seat at the kitchen table and sliding her up onto his lap.

"Feeling better?" Joann asked smiling sadly at father and daughter.

Gibbs nodded after taking a sip of his coffee. "It's a wonder what a simple shower can do."

She nodded as she glanced at her grand-daughter who snuggled into Gibbs' chest his arm securing her tightly. She knew they needed to talk, but it would have to wait until Kelly was in bed. She also knew Jethro wasn't going to like what they had to say.

Dinner was accompanied by Kelly's endless chatter. If she wasn't talking about what she had spent doing with her grandparents the past few weeks she was asking her dad questions about how long he was going to be home and what they could do while he was. It was clear to all the adults she was avoiding the topic of her mother.

She was a little dismayed to learn that her father would be leaving in a few weeks, but he promised it would only be for a few months and then he'd be home for good.

"Really? For good?" she beamed.

Gibbs smiled a half smile as he told her, "It's true."

"What will you do then?" Mack asked surprised and curious about what his son-in-law had planned. He knew what his wife wanted and now wondered if this change in Jethro's career would be more of an obstacle to an already unlikely proposal.

"Not sure. I'm sure something will come up," Gibbs answered. He'd never had a problem making do. He was more than determined to find something to keep him close to home with Kelly.

"Don't you think you should have something in mind before you leave the Corps?" Joann asked. She knew a big part of her argument to attain what she desired was him being away for long periods of time.

Gibbs narrowed his eyes scrutinizing his mother-in-law. He sensed there was something she wasn't telling him. "I have some friends to contact that will help me find something."

The Marines had provided a number of contacts in the working sector. Gibbs had served with more than a few reservists that had mentioned having him come to work for them if he ever tired of the Corps. Of course at the time he never thought the day would come. Then again he never dreamed his world would be turned upside by tragedy.

As fate would have it his future literally came knocking on his door. He'd just finished his meal and was putting his plate in the sink when he heard someone at the door.

Waving Joann and Mack back to their chairs he went to see who their visitor was. He saw a man standing there through the window of the door. Not recognizing him he cautiously opened the door.

"May I help you?" he asked wondering if the gentleman had the wrong house. He was surprised when the man revealed a badge and ID.

"Special Agent Franks, NCIS," he announced himself.

Not sure exactly why the agent was there he stepped to the side to invite him in first looking back to make sure no one else had followed him. He escorted him to the living room couch and sat across from him in a chair.

"You looked surprised to see me," the agent noticed Gibbs wariness.

"I am," Gibbs replied.

"You are aware we were investigating your wife's accident?" Franks asked.

"What's to investigate? I know who's responsible," Gibbs sneered.

"We do too. Rest assured we'll get him."

Gibbs glanced at the agent and saw the determination in his eyes. "You need any help with that you let me know."

Franks chuckled. "You just let us do our job," he told the Marine. He'd seen all the reports on the gunnery sergeant and was well aware of his many talents. He wouldn't mind having someone that capable on his team, but he didn't want or need him interfering with the case.

Before Gibbs could respond to that he heard Kelly approaching.

"Agent Franks," Kelly greeted the agent with a smile.

"Hi Little Darlin'. How are you doin'?" he asked lightly. Gibbs was pleased to see the man had managed to make Kelly feel comfortable. A task he was sure wasn't easy under the circumstances they had met.

"I'm good," she answered pulling herself onto her father's lap.

"Glad to hear that." Franks saw the Fieldings approaching and was hoping they could take Kelly away allowing him to catch the recent widower up to date. He tried to shield her as much as possible from the details.

Sensing that agent had things to tell him he looked at Joann who guessed what he wanted.

"Kelly why don't you come and help Grandma with dessert?" she held out her hand toward her grand-daughter.

"Okay," she smiled as she slid off her daddy's lap and took the offered hand. She turned back to wave as they left the room.

"What have you learned about that SOB?" Mack asked with clenched teeth. Jethro was a little surprised by the vehemence in the voice of normally soft spoken man.

"He's somewhere in Mexico," Franks told him not sounding any happier about it than Mack.

"Are you going after him?" Jethro asked.

Franks shook his head frowning. "The director won't allow us to go unless we know precisely where he is. Too much politics involved if you ask me. He just doesn't want a gunfight with a lot of loss of life to have to explain to the SecNav."

Gibbs' face hardened, "So he's going to get away with it?"

"Didn't say that. We're not without resources down there. It just might take some time," Franks said.

"What about Shannon?" Gibbs asked wanting to know if they'd release her body.

Franks nodded in understanding. "The reason for my visit was to let you know we're releasing her body."

Gibbs closed his eyes trying to avert the image of her lying in an autopsy room. "Thank you," he told the agent.

"We'll be in touch if any more details come up," he stood and prepared to leave.

Gibbs walked him to the door and shook his hand. When he released the callous hand he found a business card in his. "Call me if you have any questions," the agent tipped his head and walked to his car.

Gibbs watched the man walk down the driveway as he closed the door. He regarded the card in his hand and tucked into his pocket before he turned to walk back to the living room. He sat stunned trying to work through all the avenues his mind was racing. He wished he could go to Mexico. With his tracking skills he'd have no problem discovering where the dirt ball was holing away. There'd be no need for politics once he found him, of that he was certain. No jurisdiction issues, no extradition petitions, no jury, no trial… he'd be judge and executioner. He envisioned the moment he pulled the trigger.

He was ripped from his thoughts by Kelly's voice calling him to eat his dessert. He hung his head ashamed of his thoughts. He couldn't do what he dreamed of doing. Not with Kelly needing him. There had to be another way.

He pulled himself together and went to enjoy some coffee and dessert with his family. When they finished he offered to do the clean up while Kelly shared some time with her grandparents.

He thought again of the revenge he wanted to react. He wouldn't regret killing the evil drug lord, but shielding his daughter from the backlash would be a burden he wouldn't want to carry.

The sound of Kelly's laughter filtered from the living room. How he hoped the worst for her was past, though he knew there was still the funeral service to get through. He dried his hands on the towel and folded it back up to hang on the holder before he went to join the trio in the living room.

He knew his in-laws had things to tell him and wanted to get Kelly to bed to deal with it all, yet he missed her and wanted to spend more time with her. So he helped her with her bath, though he did little more than sit tub-side and listen to her stories. He helped to get her ready for bed and got her settled in before reading her a story. Even after she nodded off he sat and watched her breathing softly before getting up to rejoin Joann and Mack.

He found them sitting side by side on the sofa their hands intertwined. Both looked up as he entered the room and they waited until he sat down before starting. They shared a look and when Mack nodded to Joann she began.

"First off we want to apologize, I want to apologize, for how we left things when you moved out here. I wasn't fair to you," she stated.

Gibbs nodded knowing he owed the for coming out to take care of Kelly, so forgiving words said in anger was the least he could do.

"Second, we would like to bury Shannon back home. We'd like to have he close to us. We can even find a cemetery near your house in Virginia," she added.

Gibbs had considered the possibility. Shannon also loved the east coast more than California, so he agreed to their request.

"Third," Joann looked to Mack for his support knowing this was the part that Jethro would disagree most with.

"Jethro," Mack picked up for his wife, "We'd like to keep Kelly with us."

Gibbs was thinking about the few months he would be gone, but looking at the couple across from him he knew they were thinking about a permanent basis.

"Before you say anything," Joann spoke trying to tamp down the anger she saw rising in his eyes, "You have to see that we'd be better for her than you on your own. You have to get your life back together and she deserves a stable home while you find what you need to do."

Gibbs ran his hands over his face. "Look Joann, Mack," he glared at each of them, "She's my daughter. I'm grateful that you've been here for her and will appreciate you keeping her while I finish up my tour; but when I come home, she's coming with me. I hope that we can work something out between us because I know how much you both mean to Kelly."

Mack seeing the determination in they younger man's face stopped his wife from continuing. "He's right Joann. Kelly needs to be with him. We'll be happy to take care of her while you're gone."

Joann looked askance, but held back from arguing further. Mack must've sensed that they wouldn't win, at least at this point in time.

Gibbs relaxed when he saw Joann accept her husband's word. Silence hung between them for a few minutes, then Gibbs stood and went up to check on Kelly before going to bed himself. It had been a long day.