McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 286: 1000 Pictures One Word
Monday night, Gibbs finishes his dinner, washes up his plate, puts it on the drying rack, and heads back to his cup of coffee and pad of paper.
He’d been doodling on it, just sort of thinking about what love meant. Not coming up with much of anything that made any sense, either on the paper or in his head.
Then it hits him. He can’t email a piece of paper.
And he’s not doing this on his phone.
He’s certainly not doing this at work. No way in hell any of this goes near work.
So… he needs a computer. At home.
On Tuesday, they do more paperwork. He eyeballs Tim and Draga’s laptops between filling out forms.
Tim’s got… three of them… maybe, (he’s not sure if the tiny one is a laptop or something else). Draga’s got one on his desk, one in his lap, and seems to be using both of them to research something to fill out one of the reports with.
He knows NCIS will give you a laptop if you request one for field work.
But he doesn’t want one for field work. He doesn’t want to do work on it at all.
He’s not above the occasional misappropriation of government resources, but requesting a laptop just for personal use rankles. And he’d have to give it back once he retires.
He sends Tim a text. Busy after work?
Just heading home. Why?
Wanna get online at home. Can you make my computer do that?
Tim looks up from his phone, stares at Gibbs, a bit alarmed, and then texts, You mean that dinosaur in your attic that’s older than Draga? Yeah, I can get it online, but… What do you want to do with it? to him.
Write a document. Send email.
He can hear Tim sigh and sees him stare up at the ceiling.
Yes, I can make it do that. No, I’m not going to. It’d take hours, and I’ve got better ways to use my time. I will buy you one.
He stares across the bullpen at Tim, not saying anything, but that’s way too big of a present clear in his face.
I’m shopping. You’re paying. Pops up on his phone a few seconds later. Won’t cost much. And buying a new one will be way faster than getting what you’ve got set up to do anything more than collect dust.
A minute later he gets one more text from Tim.
Do you even have internet access at home?
Internet on my phone works fine.
Tim rolls his eyes. Because the phone has 4G. Who’s your cable carrier?
I’ll get it set.
Thursday. No excuses. He’s got wifi, a zippy new… something… it’s small and black and way faster than his computer at work.
He’s sitting at the kitchen table, Word open, screen blank and white, cursor blinking at him, waiting.
He types it quickly, feeling the nicely springy action on the keyboard. Yeah, whatever else may be true, Tim knows computers.
Then he sits there, staring at it.
This might actually be worse than the blank page. One, single word just sitting there, all by it’s lonesome.
Three hours later, he’s still only got one word. He has, however, learned what each and every function on Word does. He’s put love into every one of the standard fonts. He now knows how to set up an outline or different templates. He can stick love in a box, underline it, attach notes, translate it, set it up with seventy different layouts, mail merge it, track changes to it, and footnote it.
What he hasn’t been able to do is come up with any other word to go with it.
He closes the laptop and goes to bed.
Friday, he gets home from Shabbos, glares at the computer, and heads down to his basement. He still can’t really do any work on the crib, but he can sketch.
Saturday morning. He’s once again in front of the computer, not typing.
He’s got a list of movies he wants to see on Netflix down. He’s checked his email nine times. He’s looked at plans for cribs, boats, frames, and boxes. He’s ogled hand-crafted woodworking tools, read reviews of three new stains, placed an order for wood he really doesn’t need (but it’s very pretty) and has been seriously thinking about a lathe.
He’s getting dangerously close to setting up a Facebook profile.
It’s occurring to him that not having an internet connection at home is a good thing.
An hour later he still hasn’t written another word.
Love Sitting there, all by itself, staring back at him.
Gibbs shuts the computer.
It’s not words. Not for him. It’s never been words. He can’t tell Rachel what love means because he doesn’t know, not in words.
Besides, what do they say, a picture’s worth a thousand words?
His phone has a camera on it. It’ll do.
Last year, after talking to Tim, he moved a few of the photo albums downstairs, as well as a few pictures of the three of them.
So, that’s where he starts.
He takes a snap of the one on his mantle, last shot of the three of them before he left. Next door neighbor took it. He’s in uniform, has his arms around his girls. His duffle was already in the car, and two minutes later they got on the road. There isn’t a picture of the last hugs, last kisses. But he knows it, can see it in his mind’s eye, he was holding Kelly up on one arm, so her face was up with theirs, other arm wrapped around Shannon, holding them both close. He gave Kelly a quick kiss and Shannon a longer, deeper one, (He can still hear Kelly going ‘EWWWW!’ at it.) and then let them go, shouldered his duffle, and got on the plane.
Week later he got a copy of that shot from Shannon. It’s the last picture he has of them.
He puts it back and gets a further out shot, showing that it’s flanked by the family triptych on the left, and a triptych he made for himself, baby pictures of Kelly, Molly, and again, Kelly.
He gets a closer shot of the triptych he made himself, showing that the frames are handmade, by him, carved so that other shots can be slotted in. As long as he’s willing to make more frames, he can keep growing this piece for as many babies as he ends up with. He carefully painted on each name, and realized that one newborn baby with sandy hair and blue eyes looks an awful lot like every other newborn baby with sandy hair and blue eyes, and unless he did more than just first names, it was going to look like he had two shots of the same girl. His Kelly is Kelly Beth. Tim and Abby’s Kelly is Kelly Marie, and once he did that, he decided that all the full names would go on. So in between the Kellys is Molly Keira. (He’s already got the next frame done, just waiting to find out what name’s going on it, and a picture to stick in it. And not to tempt fate or anything, but he’s got the wood he needs for two more.)
On the bookshelf next to the mantle he has three more albums. He limps over to them, grabbing them, and heads to his sofa to take pictures of pictures.
One is their wedding album, the other two are collections of family shots from after Kelly was born.
He holds their wedding album on his lap. He knows what’s in there, but besides showing those pictures to Abby, Ziva, and Breena shortly before Abby’s wedding, he hasn’t looked at it in a long time.
He inhales fast and lets it out slow, then opens the white leather cover with the embossed silver bells and the words Our Wedding on it.
The first shot is their hands. Shannon’s on top, showing off the engagement ring.
She’d been in school then, majoring in English Lit, minoring in photography, and she knew how she wanted this album to look, how it would start and end, so he sat with her, talking, joking, being told, (sternly) to stay still while she kept fiddling with her camera and the lenses and the lighting to make sure that everything looked perfect and that the diamond all but popped out of the picture it sparkled so brightly.
She sent him a copy of it once she got it developed the way she wanted. Some of the buddies laughed, but he liked it, he had to trim it a bit, but it fit in his wallet, and he kept it on him all the time, until he replaced it with the picture of her under the maple.
“She’s gonna love it, Gibbs.”
“Ya think?” he asked Matheson, tucking the ring back into his pocket.
And she nodded, warm smile on her face. “Oh yeah. She is.”
It was smaller than he wanted, but they were both practical people, and saving money for a home came before getting a big diamond ring.
So, it was small, but it was real, and the setting was red gold that made him think of her hair. And it was bigger than what he could have gotten in the States, (for once the exchange rate worked in his favor) but it wasn’t the sort of rock some of the other guys got for their girls.
“Can I ask you something?” Matheson said.
“Sure.” They were sitting next to each other on a picnic bench, enjoying a free afternoon in late February.
“You and Shannon ever…” she gave him a significant look. “Or, you gonna wait to get married?”
He blushed so red he could feel his pulse in his ears. “That’s none of… Why… We’re not talking about this.”
She laughed, sounding pretty happy as he kept sputtering away. “Calm down. Just, trying to be helpful, you know? You’re the only guy on this base with an actual girl you can talk to about this. A girl who’s done this. Who might be willing to provide useful information. So, take advantage of it. ”
Gibbs stopped sputtering, his eyes narrowed, and he said, “What kind of information?”
“The kind where you’ve got a clue so she has as much fun as you do.”
He was staring at her, horrified. Why wouldn’t Shannon have fun? Sure, he’d heard things about guys who were bad in the sack, and jokes around the Corp about wives leaving for other guys, but usually that seemed to center on not having a big enough dick or not lasting long enough. (He’d spent more than enough time in the showers with those assholes to know he had a big enough dick and wasn’t terribly worried about lasting long enough. He did just fine when they were making out.)
“Why wouldn’t she?” he asked, sounding, tentative.
Matheson fished around in her pocket and pulled out a dime. “You’re bigger than that, right?”
He nodded, eyes wide.
She gave him another knowing look.
“Oh.” Until that point in time he didn’t actually have any concrete idea what was really there. (Okay, even with the dime to help him understand scale, he still didn’t have a very good concrete idea of what was there.) He’d touched, over her panties, and seen Playboys, so he had a basic idea, but he tended to stay away from Penthouse, so explicit information of a particularly useful nature was few and far between.
“Yeah. Go slow. Go light. She doesn’t have a dick, so harder isn’t better, not at first anyway. Start with your fingers.” He was blushing again, and getting turned on at the idea of it, both doing it and the fact that Matheson was talking about it, (which meant he had images of both her and Shannon in his head) and just really horrendously embarrassed, but also trying to pay attention because he did want to be good at it, and he did have an actual girl here who was willing to talk to him, so he might as well learn something, damn it! “Leave the lights on and actually look, so you can see what you’re doing. You didn’t learn to strip a rifle with your eyes closed in the dark, and trust me, a woman is a lot more complicated than that.”
He nodded; that made sense.
“She makes little happy noises when she’s kissing you, right?”
He didn’t want to comment on that, but he was sure she was asking for a good reason, and this was Matheson, and she didn’t blab, so… “Yeah.”
“She stops making those noises, she’s not having a good time anymore, go back to kissing and whatever else makes her make those noises.”
She looked at him for a long minute, and he wasn’t sure what that look meant, like she was testing him or something, but he didn’t know why or if he was passing. Eventually she said, very light blush on her cheeks, “You know what rug munching is?”
He nodded yes, but only in a very vague that-was-something-dykes did sort of way.
He was also sort of vague on what a dyke was, too, he knew they called Matheson one, a lot. (She’d just flip them off when that happened. Told him once that if she got pissed every time some asshole jarhead called her a dyke, she’d never have time for anything else.) He wasn’t entirely sheltered. He was a Marine Lance Corporal for God’s sake, so, he knew what a dyke was. But there’s knowing and then there’s knowing. And, like with rug munching, he didn’t know.
She was still staring at him, really looking, and then shook her head. “You don’t, not really, do you?”
He rolled his eyes. “I can figure out the basics from the name. I’m not stupid.”
She shoved his shoulder and smirked. “It’s just French kissing, but, you know, down there. It’s a good way to start. Anything she likes on her lips, she’ll like down there, too. And if you do it while you’re playing with your fingers, she’ll probably like it a whole lot, and if you do that first, it probably won’t matter much that you’re a whole lot wider around than a dime by the time you get to the fucking.”
His eyebrows had gone high for that. He wasn’t sure how the mechanics on that works.
“She gets looser?”
“No. But the more turned on she is, the better everything feels, and if you’ve got her turned on, she’s going to like it if you slip in slow and gentle like.”
“I did. And I really didn’t like it when I wasn’t turned on. Hurt like a fucking son of a bitch and I bled all over the place, so don’t do that to her.”
“Oh.” He’d heard about that, too, but from the bragging, popped her cherry so hard it burst perspective. He didn’t know bleeding was optional, and decided then and there that if it was, he didn’t want to do that to Shannon.
“Yeah. So, when are you gonna ask?”
“Next time I get enough liberty to get up there.”
She grinned at him. “Good.”
But he didn’t. The next time he had enough liberty to get up to Stillwater was two days after Matheson died, and he was too sad to ask.
The second shot is the engagement picture she took for the local paper. They’re standing facing each other, but looking at the camera, her hand on his chest, facing the camera as well, showing off the ring.
“Why are we doing this?” he remembers asking.
“When we’re old, we’ll want to remember it. It’ll be fun.” She sounded somewhere between exasperated that he wasn’t gung ho about this, and mildly amused that he was still heading toward his car to take her to her friend’s house (which had the gazebo and creek she wanted for the background) to take the picture anyway.
He wasn’t buying that at all, and his look to Shannon made that clear.
“Don’t look at me like that, Gibbs!”
“Fine!” He rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out at her, putting the key into the ignition, getting ready to head to her friend’s house.
She blew a raspberry at him. “Let’s go have some fun.”
He was in uniform, she had on a pretty violet dress. It was summer, a few months after they had gotten engaged, a few months before the wedding. The only leave he had between getting engaged and getting married that was long enough for him to get back to Stillwater.
Spring when they got engaged. Early May. Week before the end of class for her, two weeks before finals.
Close to 03:00 when he got in. He wanted to go to Shannon’s but he couldn’t just head over there at three in the morning. So he headed home, back to his dad’s place.
Old man was still up, messing around with something, a soldering iron, and a pile of wires on the kitchen table.
“You must have driven like a son of a bitch to get here that fast.” Lejeune to Stillwater was, usually, a fourteen hour ride. He’d done it in ten.
Gibbs shrugged. He got here. That’s all that mattered. He slung his duffle on the floor, and sat at the table next to his dad.
“Got five days leave.”
Jackson touched the tip of his soldering iron to a tiny bit of metal. “And let me guess, you didn’t run here that fast to see me. Callin’ on your pretty lady as soon as you can?”
“Yeah, Dad. Grab some shut eye. See her after class tomorrow.”
“She knew you were gonna be in town?”
“Nice to see you tell someone.” Jack put the soldering iron down and looked at Jethro. Then he looked more, one eyebrow high. “Something special gonna happen?”
Gibbs nodded, staring his dad in the eye. “Got the news yesterday. Sniper school starts in January.”
His father nodded.
“It’s in California.”
He nodded again.
“Gonna have a chat with Mr. Fielding tomorrow.”
“Good. That’s the way you do it. Show her daddy you respect him and that you’re worthy to be part of his family.” Jackson smiled. “Planning on having a chat with her, too?”
“Yeah, I am.” Jethro smiled wide at that, and his dad did, too.
Jackson got up, headed into the kitchen, found another glass, and returned, pouring Jethro a shot of whiskey to go with the one he was working on. “Good, Leroy, good. That girl’s like sunshine and air for you, boy; she keeps you right.”
“I don’t want you ever thinking I don’t like her, or I don’t approve.”
Gibbs could feel the massive ‘but’ coming at the end of that sentence. He took a swallow of the liquor Jackson had poured, small one, he liked whisky well enough, but it went to his head pretty fast. Things were always tricky with his dad, he didn’t need to add drunk to the troubles.
“But you are both very, very young, and the world won’t end if you wait.”
Jethro rolled his eyes, starting to feel the anger build.
“Don’t get like that. She’s not done school. And you know she and her family want her to finish. You’ve been a Lance Corporal for less than a year. You’re barely twenty and she’s not going to be twenty until August.”
He was glaring at his dad by the end of that.
Jackson sighed, knowing that look, what it meant, and exactly how deaf a young man’s ears could get when he wanted to get married. “Look, you get married next week, I’ll be happy for you. But a year from now, two years from now, she’ll still be here. She loves you, son; she’s not going anywhere. Some more time to grow up won’t hurt either of you.”
That got a glare, too, and Jethro started to get up, not wanting to listen to more of this. Jackson put his hand on his wrist, and looked him in the eye, earnest. “You think I don’t know why you want to rush? Think I haven’t been where you are?” He shook his head and gave Jethro a very long look that got across everything he wasn’t saying, and then he went and said to make sure Jethro got it, “Think I wasn’t in love with the prettiest redhead on Earth and couldn’t wait to make her my wife?”
“Are you really going to tell me you wanted less time with my mother?”
Jackson shook his head again, sounding sad, a bit wistful. “No. Wanted every minute I could get with her. But the first five years would have been a lot easier if they had started a few years later.”
“I know.” Jackson smiled a bit. “We didn’t wait, either. My dad said the same thing to me, and I gave him the exact same look you’re giving me. Got married as soon as we could once I got back. I’m happy for you.”
“Go, get your sack time. Don’t want to talk to her daddy tired.”
“Hey, John, the kid’s here to see you.”
Jethro didn’t roll his eyes. Back here, in his civies, he’s ‘the kid.’ The fact that most of these guys were vets (Army, he thought with a bit of disdain) and he outranked most of them didn’t help with his annoyance.
But he wasn’t here for that. If he had headed to the Fieldings’ house to talk to Shannon’s dad he would have had to do it when he was home, which was also when Shannon was home, so it would have given away the surprise.
So, it was lunchtime, and he was in Meadville, at the (of all ridiculous things) zipper factory, waiting for John’s lunch break, so he could offer to take him to lunch, buy him a beer, and have a ‘chat.’
A minute later, Shannon’s dad came out from his office. (He wasn’t one of the guys making the zippers. He was the guy who made sure the zippers got sent to wherever they were going, and that when orders were placed, zippers got made to go with them.)
“Jethro.” Fielding nodded at him.
“Hello, Mr. Fielding, may I take you to lunch?”
He saw the look in Fielding’s eyes, there was some humor, some joy, some trepidation, and mostly a whole lot of, I’ve been expecting this for a while.
Beers and burgers in front of them, Jethro sat there, feeling fidgety. He knew what he wanted to say, but actually saying it was proving difficult. So they talked about the weather, and his leave, and the Pirates, but not why he suddenly developed a desire for one-on-one time with his girlfriend’s dad.
And now there was just quiet chewing. He took a swallow of his beer, and forced himself to talk.
“I’ve been selected for sniper school.”
“Thank you, sir. It begins in January, and it’s in California, and I’d like it very much if Shannon came with me.”
“Yes, I imagine you would.” Fielding smiled at that.
“I think she would like to come, too.”
“You’re probably right about that.” He was still smiling, but he was also going to make Jethro ask.
He fished the box out of his pocket, and put it on the table in front of Fielding, who opened it and looked approvingly at the stone. “I’d like your permission to ask her to marry me.”
“You have it, on one condition.”
Those words felt like ice down his spine, and he was suddenly very afraid that like his dad, Fielding was also going to say they should wait, make it a condition for his approval. “What?”
“You will make sure she finishes school. No matter where you go or what you do, you will make sure she gets the education she wanted.”
Jethro breathed more easily, that wasn’t a problem. There were colleges all over the world. “Yes, sir.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You can call me John, Jethro.”
He blushed a little at that, but said, “Thank you, John.”
John smiled at him, amused. “Should I tell her mother she won’t be home for dinner tonight?”
Jethro stuck the ring back in his pocket. “Sure.”
“But you’ll have her home by midnight?”
“I always do, don’t I?”
John gave him a stern look, making sure the lines were still bold and clear. “Until the ring that goes with the one in your pocket slides onto her finger, you will continue to do so.”
He knew from her letters she’d be around here somewhere. He’d found the building easily enough, one kind of old brick building might look a whole lot like every other kind of old brick building to Gibbs, but the clock tower stuck out, so he didn’t have any trouble locating it.
Warm day by north-west PA spring standards. Might be in the low sixties, probably high fifties. Students were laying on the wide, green lawn in front of Rockwell Hall, absorbing as much of the spring sunshine as they could. He pulled his jacket a little tighter. Yesterday he’d been in North Carolina, where it’d been in the high eighties. He’d adjust back to the cool, but it’d take another day or so.
And he had his hands fully of happy redhaired girl. He kissed her quickly and put her back on the ground. “Hi, baby.”
She was grinning up at him, eyes sparkling and sassy. “Don’t, ‘Hi, baby,’ me! Give me a real kiss and let me know you’re happy to see me.”
He grinned back at her, shaking his head slightly, little embarrassed by this, her buddies were all watching, giggling, but she was his, and here, and it had been so damn long, so he pulled her close, melding his body to hers, and kissed her right, mouth open, tongue wet and loving. He could sort of hear the buddies cooing in the background, and could definitely hear the appalled, “Miss Fielding!” coming from one of the professors.
“Professor Granger,” Shannon said as she pulled, slowly, back from him. “This is my boyfriend, Leroy Jethro Gibbs.”
She was ninety if she’s a day, and was probably born hating men, romance, and joy. Granger nodded at him curtly while glaring daggers at him. He was tempted to let Shannon go, but the way Granger was staring at him was a challenge, demanding he let Shannon go. He took a step closer, arm draped over her shoulders.
“You’re not a student here, are you, Mr. Gibbs?”
“Then what, pray tell, do you do that gives you such liberty as to be about on a college campus in the middle of the day, molesting the students?” She was very blatantly glaring at his arm on Shannon’s shoulder.
He pulled himself into full Marines posture, while slipping his arm off her shoulder, sliding it around her waist, fingers slipping under her jacket, a much more intimate gesture. “I’m on leave, Ma’am.”
“Indeed, and what are you on leave from?”
“The Marines, Ma’am.” It was his best BSing the Sergeant manner. That so-polite-it’s-insulting,-but-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-about-it-because-it’s-polite manner that just about anyone who’d been enlisted for more than a month develops.
She was still glaring at him, because she couldn’t call him out for being rude. “And do the Marine endorse groping women you are not married to?”
“Wholeheartedly, Ma’am,” he nodded quickly, “They recommend we do it as often as we can possibly can.”
Granger’s eyes just about bugged out of her head. Gibbs flashed a quick smile at Shannon, and then pulled her away from the professor and toward his car. “That’s the one you hate, right?” he asked once they were out of ear shot.
She was smiling wide and giggling at him. “God, yes. She teaches biology and I loathe her!”
He’d been thinking about dressed up and fancy dinner for proposing, but… But they’d have to go back to her place, and he’d have to ask her to get dressed up, and then she’d know something was up because it’s Tuesday which wasn’t exactly a dressed up and out night, so…
They were at the same diner they usually grab dinner at, talking. She was talking. He was mostly listening, feeling kind of nervous. He kept touching the ring box in his jacket pocket, wondering if he should do it now, when everyone was around, or later in the car, or maybe at home, in front of her parents, or…
“Earth to Gibbs.”
“What’s up? You’re off orbiting Pluto.”
He smiled and made the decision, not here. Not with everyone else around. Not with anyone else around. This was for them, just them. “You.”
“And what are you thinking about me?”
He smiled again, holding her gaze for a beat or two, and then slowly dragging his eyes down her body. She knew that look, knew what it usually meant. “Thinking about finishing up dinner, getting into my car, and driving out to Conneaut.”
“And what are we gonna do at Lake Conneaut?” There was a sparkle in her eyes as she asked. She knew exactly what they did at Lake Conneaut.
“Not look at the moon or stars.”
She grinned at him.
As a child, Gibbs hated fishing. Jackson and LJ loved it. So he got dragged along on what felt like thousands of endlessly long fishing trips. On the upside, he now knew lots of little, out of the way nooks and crannies of Lake Conneaut, spots where you could pull a car in, turn off the lights, and vanish for a few hours.
From his first leave back home, first time he and Shannon got enough time to find a place to really play with each other, they both appreciated his intimate knowledge of the less accessible bits of Lake Conneaut.
There were rules, underwear stayed on, hands stayed on top of it. And he was okay with that.
Frustrated, God, yes, frustrated, but really, on a deep level he couldn’t have explained if he tried, he was okay, too. Yes, he wanted sex, with her, more than he’d ever wanted anything. But waiting felt right. Right in a way he knew she got, and Matheson would have gotten if they’d ever talked about it. But they never did talk about that.
He didn’t talk about it with the rest of the guys, even though he was sure there were some who probably would have agreed, but most of them would have thought it stupid. After all, it was 1978, not 1958.
On a more practical level, he didn’t want to risk getting her pregnant. Seen more than enough of his buddies end up married with a kid on the way real fast. And, sure, it wasn’t likely, but he really didn’t want to risk getting her pregnant and not being able to get back in time to marry her. Or maybe not get back at all.
That had happened to one of the buddies, too. He got the ‘I’m late’ letter, wasn’t able to get leave, got sent to desert training in California, something went wrong, and died. They took up a collection for his girl, but only managed to scrape together a few hundred dollars.
No way, no fucking way in hell he was going to risk that with Shannon.
Besides, there were lots of fun things you could do with your underwear on.
And once he figured out that if he made sure he had a handkerchief and an extra pair of boxers in the glove compartment, getting home (or walking Shannon in to her home and chatting with her parents) after having fun with your underwear on worked a lot better, too.
They were in his Challenger, passenger seat pushed all the way back and reclined, mostly naked, relaxed, (They’d already gotten off once. Didn’t take either of them too long to figure out that she could sit in his lap, facing him, kissing, and they could sort of rub together, and very, very good things would result.) kissing and petting lazily, enjoying the glow. Normally, this would be a lull between rounds, just enjoying each other’s skin and the feel of another heart beating close to your own.
Normally they wouldn’t talk much now. Normally, right now, communication would be focused on touch, on sensations of skin on skin, and the nuances of how hands, lips, bellies, shoulders, and legs can say I love you a million ways.
His lips rested on the crown of her head, and she was gently playing with his chest hair, occasionally giving him a light lick. His fingers trailed through her hair, stroking down her back, over her bra strap, lightly fiddling with the edge of her panties, not breaking, or even bending the rules, just aware of them.
He stretched, content, and she shifted a bit, looking up at him, like she expected him to say something.
So, he did. “Got the news yesterday that I’ve been accepted for sniper training.”
She grinned, wide, happy for him, lips pink and plump from kissing and he had to lower his head and kiss her again. When he pulled back, she said, “That’s excellent.”
“Yeah. It starts in January.”
She still looked so happy, and he had to kiss her again, had to drink in her happiness, feel it on his skin, taste it on his lips. He reached behind him, trying to figure out where his jacket was. Couldn’t be that far off. The jacket had been (along with the rest of their clothing) tossed in the backseat, and while the front seats in a Challenger were large and comfy, the back was pretty tiny.
He felt denim, found the ring, and held the box in his hand.
For all the trying to keep it a surprise, he thought she knew what was coming next. Probably because she also knew that sniper training was in California.
“Yeah?” More of that electric grin on her face.
“Come with me. To California, and anywhere after that, for every day of the rest of our lives.” He opened the ring box, and she squealed with joy.
He was grinning so widely he thought his face would crack, and was so high on the excitement of it his hands were shaking as he took the ring out of the box and slid it onto her finger.
And there was more kissing, broken only by looking at it on her hand, feeling the weight of that promise, and the freedom of a bound future.
“I love you, Gibbs.”
“Love you, too, Shannon, love you so much, love you always.”
More kissing, more rubbing, more I love you, all of it round and full and perfect. Glowing with perfect.
That he remembers clearly, much more clearly than the sex or the words, that intense feeling of everything in the world being right and the contentment of that.
And he did get her home at 23:59, with thirty seconds to spare.
He flips to the next page, looking at shots of Shannon and her mom, Shannon and her dad, all the bridesmaids, all of team bride together. All of them sparkly and pretty, dressed up and ready to go.
Next page has him with his dad. Him on his own, all bright and shiny in his dress blues. Him standing next to the three buddies who had come up for the wedding.
He turns that page quickly. He’s lost every person on those pages.
Then he stops, page in hand, halfway to the next one, and wonders what Joann might be up to. He shakes his head, like the buddies standing next to him, that bridge is burned.
Besides, it’s been five years since he’s seen her. He’s not even sure if she’s still alive.
But he could find out.
More getting ready for the wedding shots. Shannon and her girls getting out of the car. Stuff like that. The cake, the bouquet, the garter (okay, he stopped to look at that one), stuff he didn’t care much about. Stuff he honestly didn’t remember all that well.
Finally he gets to one that does matter. He takes a shot of it, to add to the ones he’s sending to Cranston.
Shannon and her dad walking down the aisle.
Gibbs was not fidgeting. At all. Standing there at the front of the church, he was doing such a good job of staying still, in his absolutely perfect uniform, that he’d could have done duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or a living statue, either would work.
The music started, and her friends came forward, all of them walking way, way, way too slowly. Just inching down the aisle at a glacial pace.
And finally, the last one of them got into place, and the music shifted, everyone stood up, the doors opened one last time, and his breath stopped.
The dress was white lace, long, flowy, billowy sleeves the didn’t quite come all the way down her arms. Her hair was in a loose braid, bits of it free and curling gently along her face and neck.
For a few seconds there, time stopped. He watched her eyes scan the church, find his, and a smile lit her face. He felt his own mirror it, and everything started moving again, he started breathing again, because his dad was right, she was his air, and wherever she was, he could breathe.
He takes a picture of the next one, too. It’s a shot of him slipping the ring onto her finger. And while it’s true a lot of the earlier pictures represent moments he doesn’t remember all that well, it’s also true that that one is burned into his memory forever, the feel of her hand in his, skin soft, his hand trembling a little, hers too, as he said with a quiet, reverent voice, ‘With this ring, I thee wed.’
He doesn’t grab a shot of the two of them facing the church as the Minister said, “I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs,” but he remembers the way that felt, that insane rush of Mrs. Gibbs.
He remembers reading something where one of the characters was talking about offering his wife his name, like it was a crown, the most precious jewel he could give her, and that feeling of pride to see her wear it.
And he completely understood that feeling.
His woman. His wife. Wearing his name like a jewel.
His honor, his life, his name, laid at her feet, offered up to her, and she lifted it, placed it upon her skin, and made it sparkle.
His eyes close and he bites his lip. He stops looking at the pictures, needing to break that train of thought.
Then he opens the album again. There’s the shot of them leaving the church, under the swords of his buddies. There’s the picture of her alone, under the scarlet maple. He doesn’t take a shot of that, but he does put the album down, get up, hobble over to his wallet, and take a picture of the copy that he carries with him. The edges are worn, the corners bent, and the image is faded. He makes sure all of that is visible in his photo of the photo, making it clear that this is something he’s carried with him for more than thirty years, and then he heads back to his sofa and his photo albums.
The rest of the photos are fairly standard small-town, family wedding from the seventies shots. The VFW hall decorated in white and pink. Her mom had made the cake, and it was supposed to have the traditional bride and groom on top, but they couldn’t find one in a Marine uniform, so instead of that, it was white with lots of white curly cues on it, and Shannon had put scarlet and gold fall leaves on the tray around it, and more of them on the top.
Shots of his best man giving the speech while Shannon leaned against him, both of them laughing. Shots of them dancing. Shots of cutting the cake, and feeding it to each other. Shots of the garter and bouquet toss.
All familiar, none extraordinary to anyone who isn’t him.
The second to last shot was his car, ‘Just Married’ painted on the back window, streamers and cans dangling off the bumper. That one brings back memories, lots of memories.
Stillwater to Niagra Falls should have taken three hours.
Gibbs at the wheel, driving to their honeymoon suite, they made it in one hour and fifty-three minutes.
He was sitting on the edge of the bed. The bed they were going to share. The bed she and he would be in, together, naked, soon. Where there was plenty of room to spread out and then… God, his pants had never, ever been this tight. He felt like he had three extra guys’ worth of blood pumping around him way too fast right now. “Where else would I go?”
She smiled at him. “Back in a few minutes.” And then vanished into the bathroom with her suitcase.
In a few minutes, she was out in a little white lace slip, and he didn’t know what to do with himself. He was staring, breathing fast, mouth feeling dry, painfully hard, and he just wanted to touch and kiss and see all of her at once.
She was looking a little shy. “You like it?”
He nodded slowly, tried to speak, but words wouldn’t form, so he nodded again and swallowed hard.
She crossed to him, standing between his legs, in front of him, and he just sat on the bed, staring, not touching, not anything, feeling completely overwhelmed by how beautiful she was and how much he wanted her.
He nodded again, swallowed again, licked his lips, and finally got it together enough to say, “I have never, ever, ever been better than I am right now.”
She undid a button on his shirt, fingers stroking lightly below the dip of his collar bone, feeling the curly black hair there. “I bet you could be better.”
He nodded, finally touching her, his hands resting on her hips, feeling the lace of her negligee and the heat of her body under it, then sliding down, fingers finding her skin, resting on her thighs, tracing small circles on impossibly soft skin. “Yeah, I think I could be.”
A brilliant smile spread over her face and an answering smile spread across his.
She reached for the light, and he stopped her, fingers circling her wrist. “No. Wanna see you.”
She didn’t look entirely sure about that, but she stopped reaching for the light, and he let go of her wrist, dragging his fingers up her arm, and then down her side, so they mirrored the position of his other hand on her leg. Then his fingers slipped back up her thighs, over her hips, tracing lightly over the lace. She giggled a little as they slipped up over her ribs, and inhaled sharply as he closed them over her breasts.
The familiar sensation of her breasts, warm, full, round, under a layer of clothing, helped get his brain working again.
“I’ve been dying to see all of you. Dreaming about it every single night since the first time we met.”
She stepped back and leaned forward, hand on his thighs, kissing him deeply, and then pulling back a little so he could look directly down the negligee, see her breasts hanging free and the dip of her stomach, and while he’s staring, she straightened up, fingers trailing down his legs, ran her hands up her arms, slipped the straps over her shoulders, and let the concoction of silk and lace fall to the floor.
He had touched her over clothing, and they’d ground against each other in the tiny, dark, cramped space of her car and his, but this… This moment of actually seeing, blew his mind. Literally, all thought besides her body had vanished. He didn’t think he’s breathing. His wife, naked, in front of him, and she was the most beautiful woman in the world, the most beautiful woman ever born, smiling at him, in love with him, sharing her body with him.
She was all ivory skin and pink nipples and lips, glorious fire red hair above and below.
He gasped at the sight of her, pulling air into starving lungs, feeling lightheaded at how excited he was by just looking.
“What you were hoping for?” she asked, still smiling at him, enjoying the stunned look on his face, and he looked up, saw the smile, felt it cut through the haze of desire and he found a word to reply with.
He’d already shrugged off the jacket, and his shoes were tidily tucked under the bed, which left his shirt, undershirt, belt, pants, boxers, and socks. All of which were suddenly too tight, too hot, and just too clothing to be born. He needed to get out of it, all of it, right that second.
And while her clothing had come off in a graceful, sinuous slither of silky material, they pretty much tore his off of him, leaving him standing in front of her, at parade rest, naked, grinning, waiting.
It was her turn to look, and his turn to bask in being physically adored. And she doesn’t have the same sort of (what he suspected was a pretty stupid) look on her face that he did on his, but her eyes were wide as they traveled over his skin, and her smile bright.
Her hand hovered over his chest, just close enough to brush the hair and for him to feel the heat of her palm on his skin. She had touched him there before, skin to skin, lips to skin, but they could feel that this was different, that, in a second, things would change, touch would change, and there was a delicious anticipation to that that neither of them was willing to break quite yet.
She stepped in toward him the same time he reached for her, pressing up close against him as his arms curled around her waist. They both groaned, him loudly, her quietly, at the feel of fully naked bodies touching while their lips found a familiar and satisfying rhythm.
His hands mapped her back, her hips, her butt, every inch they could reach while he reveled in the feel of her skin so hot and smooth and tight against him.
He was rubbing against her stomach as they kissed, astounded at how amazing just her tummy felt, how it was softer than anything that had ever touched his dick before. Between that and the kissing he was leaking against her, leaving slippery, wet trails along her stomach.
She had had one hand on his neck, fingernails lightly scratching the tiny hairs there, the other had been stroking down his back, but it got to his hip and followed the curve of his waist to close around his dick. His eyes closed as his head dropped to her shoulder, and he inhaled fast, sharp, almost a whistle, pleasure racing through him. He couldn’t have not come if his life depended on it.
She was smiling up at him, holding him gently, when he opened his eyes again.
He kissed her slow and lazy, relaxing, enjoying, and after a second she pulled back a little, and licked the cum off her fingers.
“What’s it taste like?”
She looked really surprised by that. “You don’t know?”
“No.” He shook his head vehemently.
There was some on her stomach and ribcage, so she ran her finger through it and offered to him. Gibbs shook his head again. “I don’t need to know.”
She laughed at that, stepped back a bit, looked around, didn’t see any tissues, and headed back into the bathroom. She came out a few seconds later with a hand towel and a box of tissues. She tossed him the towel (which was when he realized he had cum in the hair on his stomach) and wiped herself off as well.
He finished wiping up, and noticed they were both, still, standing next to the bed, so he picked her up, grinning, and tossed her into the middle of it, pouncing in after her, laughing, as she shrieked with giggles.
Leaning over her, smiling, on his hands and knees, he lowered his mouth to kiss hers.
He kissed down her neck to her chest, taking the time to look, lick, stroke, nibble, tickle, anything he could possibly think of with her breasts, loving the soft moans, quick gasps, and panting breaths he coaxed out of her, only stopping when she gave him a none too subtle push to keep heading down.
He traced his fingers lightly over her ribs and belly, watching her squirm, delighted at her giggles, and didn’t stop that until she gasped out, “Stop, that tickles!”
He eased farther down, leaning on his side and one elbow, kissing the crest of her hip, his right hand hovering over her public hair, not touching for a heartbeat, and then very gently stroking over her hair, half feeling the texture, crisp and springy under his fingers, half seeing how she responded to his touch.
She wriggled a little, pushing up against him.
“Good?” he asked, hoping she liked it, because he really did.
He did it again, and again, marveling at the feel of her body under his, at getting to have her naked, spread out next to him, at getting to touch her, there.
He scooted around a little, sitting between her legs, spreading her wide open. “So beautiful.” He barely spoke it, halfway between a breath and a prayer. It wasn’t original, but it was deeply sincere.
He really had never seen, or guessed, what a pussy looked like. Yes, triangle of pubic hair he knew, he’d seen pictures of that, and he’d felt enough through her panties to know it’d be wet, but the luscious, glistening, pink flower in front of him, surrounded by fire-colored curls, that he wanted to lick and suck and touch and nuzzle and look at and again touch all over all at once with all of him was nothing he’d ever guessed at, let alone imagined correctly.
He was hard again, and that was distracting. His dick was more or less screaming to get in her, but that wasn’t going to go with the go slow plan, let alone start with fingers (which he really wanted to do) and lips (just the idea of which sent even more blood cascading toward his dick).
“Just gonna look?”
He shook his head. “Nope.” Then gently grazed his fingers over her lips, feather light touches, and she jerked a little when he made contact. He yanked his hand back.
“Don’t stop doing that!”
So he didn’t. Touching along each fold, stroking fingers up and down, light touches, heavier ones, seeing how she responded to each. The little spot up at the top seemed to get the best reaction, so he spent more time there, slipping his finger up and down, slowly, over again and again, and each time she’s rise up to press against him, whimpering, legs tight and quivering.
He changed position again, laying on his stomach, wanting to get closer, see more of her, taste her. His tongue darted out to that little spot, touching for a bare second, so lightly, and she squirmed again, hands clenching in his hair, groaning, so he decided that was something he needed to do again, do a whole lot.
Second lick was longer, firmer, coating his tongue with her flavor, and he knew he couldn’t do this lying on his stomach or he was going to come on the sheets from her taste and the way he was moving. He scrambled up to his knees, and that helped him stay focused.
He was moving, all of him, rocking back and forth with her, hands under her butt, thumbs keeping her spread wide, tongue exploring, tasting everything, touching everything, and finally he slipped it in her, feeling her all wet and smooth around him and he had to stop doing that, too. It was too much, the taste, the feel, the knowledge that he was inside her body, all of that was going to make him come, so he backed off and went back to licking.
Gibbs wasn’t sure if he should try a finger. Wasn’t sure if he could and not get off on it. But he did want to, and she was sounding so good, and he wanted to know how she’d sound if he slipped a finger in.
So he did, slow, gentle, licking her the whole time, and she gasped, arched her back, cried out his name, and that felt so amazing. He was doing this to her. He was making her shake and gasp and it was his name on her lips and her body on his and that felt… he didn’t have words for how that felt… but whatever it was he never wanted to not feel this way.
She tugged on his hair, getting his attention. “Now!”
He didn’t need to be told that twice.
Slide in slow and easy, and he did, or tried, took a few tries to get himself where he needed to be, but he found it, and as slow as he could, watching her face, hoping he’s not hurting her, he started to ease in.
She was still making happy noises, and she was smiling, and it felt so amazing, all soft and hot and wet and just… God… if anything had ever made him feel the divine, it was this moment of his body slowly easing into hers. Nothing else had ever felt like that.
He was all the way in, holding her, wrapped in her body, kissing her, holding still, both of them savoring the feel of being completely together.
She started to rock against him, and that felt amazing, felt like… he didn’t know. Felt great, better than great. But with all that, with as amazing as it felt, it also made him want to move, go faster, chasing even better (which he wasn’t sure he could take, but he really wanted to find out if he could.)
He wanted to go faster because he just knew faster would feel even better, but he wasn’t sure if he should.
So he kept going slow, feeling her clinging to him, arching against him, wriggling, digging her nails into his butt, and he’s biting his lip trying to keep to slow, but he couldn’t, she was so wet and slick and felt so good, and his body was sparking with pleasure, so he thrusts fast, hard. And, God, it was even better.
But Shannon stopped wriggling, stopped making those little happy noises, and he knew that didn’t work for her.
Like in the car. Like how they’d grind against each other.
He rolled over, taking her with him, ending with her on top. He sat up, scooting both of them back so he’s back against the headboard, just like how they’d do it in the car.
“You.” He could barely form coherent thoughts, but she got what he was saying, and started to experiment with how to do this so it felt good.
Quick, little up-down rocking motions. They’re a little too quick, and a little too short. They helped to distract him away from the edge again. Helped him find enough focus to open his eyes and watch.
Her eyes were closed, mouth slightly open, face, neck, and chest flushed, nipples hard. He felt like he was going to wear out the word beautiful, but he didn’t care, because she was so beautiful. He gasped it as she slid all the way down, moaned it to her between kisses, said it against her neck and shoulder as she rested on him between strokes.
Long rolling strokes. His hands found her hips, guiding her, all the way up and all the way down felt amazing, those little, up-down, quick rocking motions are okay, but this is better.
“Good?” he half-grunts, half-asked her.
She slid all the way back down on him and groaned. He swallowed that groan with a kiss, adding his own to it.
He knew that when they were rubbing together in the car, she would start moving faster, grind harder, tilt her hips some and then gasp, moan, shudder all over, and so far that hadn’t happened.
He also knew that he was gonna come again any second. He couldn’t take much more of this. His brain was melting, his body quivering, and any second now he was going to explode.
But he wanted her to, too.
And he didn’t know what to do to make that happen.
And somehow she got what he was asking, (How? He didn’t know. Hell, he barely knew what he was asking.) but she got his hand against the base of his stomach, about where his dick usually was when they were grinding against each other, and she did that thing where she tilted her hips a little, and started moving faster, sliding along his fingers, and oh fucking God, holy mother of all things, that was magnificent. His eyes slipped shut and his body tightened a bit further, and then his whole body pulsed over and over, and he thought he might have been shouting, but he wasn’t sure. What he did know was that he’d never felt that good, never even felt close to that good, never knew he could feel that good, and he really, really wanted to feel that good again.
She kept rising and falling on him for a minute or so after he finished, still sliding against his hand, and eventually he noticed his other hand was just sort of lying next to him, so he rose it to her breast, rubbing lightly over her nipple. He felt her gripping him tighter, the squeeze of her knees against his hips and hands on his shoulders, which was familiar, the clench of her pussy, which wasn’t, but he was greatly appreciating. She gasped, and moaned, and did that little shudder thing, which he got to feel from the inside, and that got him hard again.
She slumped against him, resting against his chest as he held her close, feeling her heart pounding and the extremely pleasant way her body twitched against his, and there were a lot of things he wanted to say to her, lots of feelings pouring through him, but he didn’t have the words, so he whispered, “I love you,” against her ear, and felt her kiss it back to him on his shoulder.
The next morning breakfast showed up, and while they were munching away, and she said, “I got us a wedding present.”
“How is it a present for us if you got it?”
“You’ll see.” And he watched her get up, walk, hips swaying, sassy little jiggle to her tush that he was appreciating greatly, (Appreciating greatly was more or less a constant state for him for the entirety of their honeymoon.) and she found her suitcase, messed around for a bit, and came back with a somewhat large, prettily wrapped, rectangle.
“Is it a book?” he asked as she tossed it on the bed in front of where he way laying on his stomach, propped on his elbows, looking up at her.
“It might be. Open it up!”
He ripped through the paper fast and felt his eyes go wide. The Joy of Sex was looking up at him. Part of him was thrilled at the idea of going through every single page with her. Part of him was mortified. They both knew Mr. Hibbard, who ran the bookstore. He was friends with her dad, and the bookstore was right across the street from his dad’s store.
She saw the look on his face and laughed. “I went to Pittsburg to get it. Cut classes for a day, drove down, got it and a few other things to, as my mom put it, ‘round out my hope chest.’”
He looked up at her from the book and smiled. “Oh.”
“Yeah, couldn’t imagine walking into Hibbard’s and asking for it.”
“I could imagine you doing it. You’re fearless.”
She giggled at that, laying on her stomach, propped on her elbows next to him. “Come on, open it up. I want to see what’s inside.”
“You haven’t read it?” His eyes were wide at that, he can’t imagine having this for, however long, and not opening it.
“Nope. It was for us. I wasn’t going to open it until you were here.”
So he opened it, not sure if they should just flip around or read straight through or… Page one, good enough place to start.
He liked the idea of the pictures, really liked the idea of trying everything he was seeing, but the subjects were not precisely to his tastes. “Hippies.” He didn’t have much use for them. Hadn’t run into too many real live ones. But there were usually some protesting around their bases.
Her shoulder brushed his. (She didn’t seem nearly as bothered by the models.) “How many of the guys you work with would pose for something like this?”
“Good point.” None of the guys he worked with were shy about being naked, but, he flipped a few pages and found a shot of the guy lying on his back with the girl lying on him, holding his dick, about to suck it while he… suddenly Gibbs had a much better idea of the fact that there were a whole lot of variations on the theme of rug munching, and that killed any train of thought he might have had about how many Marines would be willing to pose naked for a sex book.
They didn’t read straight through, not for a few weeks later. They did look at all the sketches, and tried a lot of them. Some worked, some didn’t, some actually required reading to make what was in the pictures make a lot more sense.
But all in all, they both had a very good time with that book.
And to this day, he’s never seen Niagara Falls in the flesh.
The last picture (taken a few weeks after the wedding) is both of their hands, hers over his, fingers clasped together, both wedding rings visible.
He takes a photo of that, and then closes their wedding album.
He knows what’s in the next album. This is the one he’s probably looked over the most often. This is the one that’s easiest to share. Brown leather, says Kelly Beth Gibbs March 22, 1982 on the cover.
It’s slim, only had forty-two pages and was only intended to have thirty-eight of them filled.
Hers only has the first eighteen filled.
He’d send the whole thing to Rachel if he could. But he can’t.
So he picks and chooses. The shot of the first time Shannon held Kelly. Kelly’s bright pink, eyes screwed shut, mouth open, yelling like crazy, wanting to eat right that second. Shannon looked tired, and pale, so very pale, he’d forgotten the way her skin looked like chalk for days after. He makes himself not remember the blood, or the screaming, or… or any of that, and goes back to the feel of holding Kelly in his arms, handing her over for the first time. Shannon’s smiling in that shot, eye’s teary, looking at her daughter with unreserved love.
He takes one of him on the sofa, Kelly on his chest, both of them snoozing.
He copies the first birthday party shot, Kelly tearing through her Cookie Monster cake.
She was a late walker. (Early talker, started babbling away at ten months. The Doc said that was normal, they either walk or talk, but not both at once.) He takes a shot of Kelly, eighteen months old, standing up, one tiny hand clenching onto each of Shannon’s forefingers, one foot out, half-tipping over on the other one, as she worked on her first steps.
Two-years-old, pretty yellow dress, shoulder length brown pig tails with yellow ribbons, he’s got her on one arm, the other around Shannon, smiling brilliantly in her cap and gown. It took longer than expected, but she did finish school.
First day of kindergarten, another pretty little dress, green this time, hair in two long braids, her mama’s big blue eyes smiling up at them. She wasn’t much of a dress girl. Liked shorts and jeans, but for the first day of school every year, she wanted to wear a dress. And for the first day of school, every year, Shannon made her one.
He doesn’t have a picture of it, but he can remember Shannon sitting at the kitchen table, sewing machine in front of her, what looked like hundreds of pieces of paper pinned onto fabric, Kelly laying on the floor, playing, watching Sesame Street or GI Joe. (Her Daddy was a Joe, so she watched that show a lot, wanted to be Scarlett (who had pretty hair, like Mommy and shot rifles, like Daddy) when she grew up. He had explained his job was kind of like Duke’s, like of like Leatherneck’s, kind of like Sgt. Slaughter, but not really like any of them. And that when he was here, with them, a lot of what he did was training other soldiers, and when he was away, what he did was to shoot bad guys from very far away. “Like Scarlett?” He hadn’t known she was the sniper. “Sure.” “Cool!”) Then Shannon called her in, trying on the dress for the first time, seeing how it fit.
He took a shot of second grade Halloween, princess costume, another one made by Shannon. One of the few Halloweens he’d been home. They’d been transferred to California earlier that year, and she didn’t have a new bunch of buddies, yet, so he took her out trick or treating.
Eight-years-old was the last page of that album. Raspberry Rumtart themed birthday party started that page off. Christmas ended it.
It’s a goofy shot, really goofy. She’d been one of the sheep in the Christmas pageant that year, and her friend Maddy had been one of the shepherds. It’s from after the play. Maddy had already gotten out of her costume, but Kelly hadn’t. So, goofing off, she put on Maddy’s robes over her sheep costume and was holding the crook.
Sheepherd watching sheeps (as Kelly would say, she absolutely refused to believe the plural of sheep was sheep) on high.
Then she got a hold of another of the kid’s wings.
So, it’s her, looking at the camera, huge gap toothed smile on her face, wooly sheep costume and face paint with whiskers (Sheep have whiskers, right? They did at their church.) wearing a shepherd’s costume, with wings and a lop-sided halo.
He takes a shot of that one, knowing it’ll make Cranston smile.
He stands up, putting the albums back, and then hobbled over to the laundry room.
Most of the changes were gone, ripped out slowly, by one wife and then another. None of them needed or wanted a dark room, what they wanted was a laundry room where there was enough light to actually sort the damn clothing.
(He’d let them believe the house had come with a dark room, not that he and Shannon and Kelly had spent hours building her one.) He gets shots of the extra shelves, and the two extra-large sinks, the tiny ‘closet’ in the one corner where she could unload her film.
They’d bought the place in ’88, got it cheap, spent a lot of time and energy fixing it up, and then got stationed in California in ’90. It was only supposed to be for two years. Only six more with the Marines, then he’d have his twenty-years in, retire a Master Sergeant, maybe go into recruiting, and this house, with her dark room and his woodshop would be their permanent home. Kelly wouldn’t have to spend high school moving every year or two. They’d be settled.
He’s not sure what album it’s in, but he knows there are shots of the house when they first moved in. It had been a rental and the guys who lived in it had beaten the hell out of it.
You won’t get rich as a Gunny, but you can afford a decent standard of living, especially if you are a fairly frugal person.
Part of frugal was saving up for a house for a long time.
Part of it was getting a place that had been beaten to hell up.
And part of it was putting the hours into the place, putting the love into it to make it shine.
He goes back into the living room and checks the third album. Not that one. Which means it’s upstairs.
He knows he’s got shots of the three of them working on the house. Of him showing Kelly how to drive nails. Of Shannon and her peeling that god-awful puke-green wallpaper off the entryway walls. He knows there’s a shot of the two of them fitting the panes of glass together for the front windows. He knows there are shots of him putting them in.
He limps outside, taking pictures of the house. Making sure to get pictures to go along with the shots of them working on the place. Now versus then.
He heads upstairs to his room, and sees something else he needs to get a shot of.
His wedding present (late) to her.
Their first home was base housing. Two bedrooms, tiny living room, tiny kitchen, one bathroom. Since he’d lived his whole life with his dad or in the barracks, and since she had lived her whole life with her parents, it felt like a castle.
They didn’t have much money (besides the nest egg he was sitting on to get them a real house/college for her) so the furniture was cheap. Thrift store stuff.
Not much reason to go overboard on it. They were only going to be there two months, then they were moving to California.
They did splurge on their mattress and box springs. Used a big chunk of their wedding present money for that. But having done so, they had a really good mattress and box spring sitting on the floor in a very empty bedroom.
They’d been married about a month when he gave her the first sketch. He’d always liked mission-style furniture, clean lines, nothing fussy or pretentious about it. It’d be sturdy, beautiful, fairly easy to make, easy to disassemble, because he knew they’d be moving around a lot.
“It’s a bed,” she said, looking up from the sketch to him.
He nodded. “Do you like it?”
“Then that’s my wedding present for us. Between now and our anniversary, I’ll get it done.”
“How are you going to do that?” Not a facetious question. He worked long hours, then sniper school on top of it, and neither of them thought the next base housing was going to be any bigger with a better place to do woodworking.
He shook his head, not entirely sure. “I will.”
“I believe you.”
And he did, though he was giving the finish the last rub down on October 19th, 1979. But they started the first day of their second year together in that bed.
It had moved to California with them. Wherever she went, that bed went with her.
And when they died, he packed everything up, gave most of it away, and headed back east, to the home they weren’t going to grow old in.
Their bed ended up in the attic, along with most of the rest of their things.
When he went to visit Mike, and he ‘accidentally’ saw the Hernandez file, he was sure he’d never be back to unpack it all.
Eventually he was back, but he didn’t unpack.
Didn’t even bother to get a bedroom, (slept on the sofa, less painful) until he realized that Hannah might think it was really weird that he didn’t have a bed. And that she’d ask questions about why he didn’t have a bed. So he went to Sears and bought the first suite of bedroom furniture he saw along with the first pillows and first set of sheets. (It clashed horribly with the rest of the room, and Hannah giggled a bit about him desperately needing a woman’s touch in his home.)
He never slept in that bed alone.
And when the divorce was done, she had taken it, and pretty much everything else inside the house (but not the attic, that was his) with her.
Diane had her own bedroom stuff, it moved in with her, and moved out as well.
Stephanie picked some crap out. He barely noticed it, and barely noticed when it left, as well.
When he started to think that things with Hollis were going to heat up, he brought his old furniture down. After all, she’d done a profile on him; she already knew about his girls. Except, apparently, she didn’t.
She asked if he had made it, and he said yes, not saying anything else about it as her fingers trailed over the wood. “It’s beautiful, Jethro.”
He nodded. Sharing that bed with her ached, but not nearly as badly as he thought it was going to. By the third night, it felt okay. (He had the sense that Shannon was okay with it.)
When she was gone, he didn’t sleep in it again until Susan. Too many memories.
And when Susan was gone… Like with the ring, he’s not done being married, and tossing it aside, pretending it didn’t happen didn’t get him where he wants to go.
He takes pictures of it. It’s not new. There are dings, and a few places where the finish is rubbed a bit thin, (He’d noticed that, years ago, wanted to refinish it, but Shannon grinned, shook her head, told him she liked the memory of how it got worn thin, so he left it.) but this is the bed they spent the first night of their second year in, this is the bed they made Kelly in, the bed she spent her first night home with them in, this was a place of many good nights and good mornings. Much more than any of the houses they lived in, this was the physical manifestation of home.
And the idea that maybe, at some point, he might want to make another one, and that that is probably the final step to welcoming another woman into his home, his life, is terrifying.
But, terrifying or not, he mentally adds it to his plan.
And like ‘take off the ring,’ he knows it’s not time, yet.
He sits so his back is against the side of the dresser, and then reaches back and opens the bottom drawer. There are three albums in here he just didn’t bring down. Nothing particularly special about them, just didn’t
feel like he needed every single shot down there.
feel like he needed every single shot down there.
Like (and he sorts through, looking at many different family shots, taking a moment here, and a moment there to get copies of them) the house make over shots. Nothing special or weird about them. They just didn’t need to be downstairs.
(Though he’s looking at a shot of six-year-old Kelly, holding the little hammer he’d gotten her, working on driving her first nails, and wondering if he’s still got that hammer, and if so, how long he needs to wait to teach Molly and Kelly how to build things.)
But those aren’t the only albums in that drawer.
There are ten others. The ones Tim saw, but didn’t look at, and Jethro trusts that he didn’t.
He hasn’t opened them in a long time. Since right after Hannah left.
The first four are just letters.
He takes the first album out, carefully, the contents are precious to him, even if he hasn’t been able to bear looking at them, because reading them felt like whipping himself with razor blades.
For a moment he sits there, album, black leather, on his lap, fingers resting on the cover. Then he opened it,
and took a picture of the first letter.
July 12, 1976
As you know, I’m setting up rules for everything, but one rule I don’t have is don’t be forward. You’ll never get anywhere, or anything, that you want if you spend your life hiding in the background waiting for people to notice you.
So, even though my mother thinks it’s horribly unladylike to send a letter to a man who hasn’t written me first, (He had, in fact, already written three times when this letter was written, and tossed all three of them out, thinking he sounded like a blathering moron.) I’m going to assume you gave me your address because you wanted to hear from me.
And I have news!
As of today, I am registered for classes at Grove City College. I’m officially a member of the class of 1980! One step closer to out of here!
The campus is old and beautiful. Lots of ancient brick buildings, tall trees, and long, wide yards.
My parents won’t let me live on campus. (Don’t want me picking up bad habits in the dorms. Not likely! Grove City didn’t notice the fifties ended twenty years ago. They still have nightly bed checks for the girls’ dorm. Still, I would have liked the chance to develop some bad habits. They might have been interesting.) But still, four more years, and I’ll have my degree, and from there, the sky’s the limit.
And, since they won’t let me live on campus, and because I need a way to get to and from class, I’m getting a car. It’ll be an old beater, and it’s my job to pay the insurance and gas, but a CAR!
I can’t wait!
It’s been a good day here, Gibbs, and I just wanted to tell you about it.
I hope you’re having a good day, too.
Thinking of you,
He practically danced back from mail call when he saw that letter. He read it and reread it and reread it so many times the words are faded and the creases are practically worn through.
And when he got done reading, he folded it up, and tucked it into his breast pocket and carried it with him.
Then he made himself write back. (Three more crossed out, erased through, and thrown out letters.) Finally he decided he was just going to write, and not re-read what he wrote, and just send it, because otherwise, he’d never get anything on paper and she’d think he didn’t like her.
July 14, 1976
Congratulations on college. What classes will you be taking? It’s kind of like school here. Learn this. Learn that. Do this. Do that. Do it right. Do it faster. And it’s really hot and humid. July in North Carolina is terrible. Especially in full gear.
I’ve added a new rule. Rule Number Three: Do Not Tell The Sergeant What You Think of Him.
I’m doing well at the learning stuff, but Johnson isn’t. He’s got two left feet and in close drill when we all go right, he goes left. He’s a nice guy. Has the bunk next to mine.
Sgt. McHugh was giving him hell for it. I told him to quit ragging on Johnson.
Turns out that after 56 pushups in 100 degree heat, I’ll pass out. Gotta work on that. The guys who have been here longer can do 100, easy. But I can’t. Gotta get faster, too.
I like rifle practice. Got good aim, always hit the target, usually hit the headshot. That feels good. Not fast enough taking it apart or cleaning it, yet, but I will be.
We don’t get a lot of down time, and I spend a lot of it working, but (he scratched out I really loved getting your letter and spend a lot of time reading it) I’ll write as much as I can.
Thinking of you, too,
P.S. What kind of car? My Dad and I worked on fixing up an old Challenger. Might be able to give you a hand with whatever you get when I get back up north again.
He snaps a shot of her reply and several of the letters that followed. Mostly it’s just both of them being young. Her excitement as school got closer. Both of them talking about her ’74 Honda Civic (not nearly as old or beat up as either of them were expecting.) Him talking about boot camp.
Three quarters of the way through that album there’s a picture. First shot of the two of them together. He’d asked if she would be his date for the Marine Ball, and she said yes. She and her mom drove down to Lejeune for it.
So, it’s him, eighteen years old, standing tall and proud in his dress blues. He has his arm, very politely, wrapped around her waist. She’s also eighteen, looking quite a bit more relaxed than he was, wearing a flowy, mint-green dress, with a white rose corsage he almost dropped when it was time to pin it on her. He’s staring straight ahead at the photographer, looking very tense and stern. She’s smiling at the camera.
That night was the first time he touched her. First time he held her in his arms. First time they danced. First time they kissed.
There’s another picture, though not a photograph. This is a picture in his mind. They’re walking, he had his arm around her waist, immensely enjoying her body this close to his, his jacket was over her shoulders, and her head was on his shoulder. He was happier right that second than he thought it was even possible to be.
She stopped walking, and he did, too, for a second they weren’t talking, just looking at each other, then she leaned in closer, pressing full into his body, arms wrapping around his waist, and she kissed him, light and gentle. His arms finally got into the game, pulling her even closer, and his lips followed hers, and after a few seconds he… he’d heard of it, but never done it, and right that second he really wanted to do it, so he just gently licked her, and she whimpered.
He almost jerked back, afraid he pissed her off, but she licked him back, and he decided that wasn’t pissed off, and that he really, really liked being licked, and that he wanted to do this a whole lot.
He wanted to do this every single day for the rest of his life.
It wasn’t his first kiss.
It was the first one that mattered.
Joann grinned at him when he brought Kelly back to the motel they were staying at. She tried to start a conversation. He glared at her and left, sure she was laughing at him, and sure he knew why she was laughing at him.
He was right about that, but she wasn’t laughing in an unkind way. But he was too young to know that, then.
He probably would have had the same response to Kelly’s first real boyfriend if he brought her home, sexually frustrated enough to chew through eighteen inch thick concrete, thus proving there was no way his daughter had lost her virginity that night.
Disheveled Marine with a rock hard wood and balls bluer than his jacket heading back to barracks wasn’t precisely rare back in 1976. Which didn’t mean that Gibbs particularly enjoyed the sensation.
He’d thought the guys bitching about girls teasing them so long they hurt was just BS.
Turns out it wasn’t. He’d been kicked in the balls before, by someone who meant it, and this wasn’t that bad, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
Not a ton of privacy, even in the showers, but right then he didn’t care.
He wanted to get a shower so he could get off. And he didn’t because he’d have to wash off her perfume. Every time he moved he could smell her. He didn’t know what the scent was, something warm and red, something her, and he liked it on his skin more than he could say.
He didn’t like the way his balls ached.
Sex won out.
It didn’t take long. He remembered her body against his, and the softness of her skin under his lips, he could feel the softness of her breast in his hand as they kissed, that got him on edge. He shifted the image, her hand wrapped around his dick. He gasped quietly at that, wondering how her hand, so small and soft, and hers would feel, let alone how it would feel if her lips were on his, and her tongue between his lips while she did it. Then his brain came up with another image, something else he’d heard about, but wasn’t sure if people, girls, actually did, but he could remember the feel of her tongue between his lips, and he imagined her mouth on his dick, and groaned, climax slamming through him.
More letters, a lot of them were pretty light little notes. How was your day, here’s what I did, type things. Some were deeper. Some he wrote easily. Some took hours. He got better at it, more relaxed, less erase-every-third word, as time went by.
He finds the one he’s looking for. Hardest one he ever wrote her. It didn’t take long, but he almost didn’t send it, afraid how she’d react to it.
April 22, 1977
You asked once, why I don’t talk about my mom. Said I could tell you, if I wanted to.
Today’s the fifth anniversary of her death.
I knew she was dying, but no one would talk about it. Like saying it would make it true. Or maybe they just wouldn’t say it to me, like if they told me, I’d break or I was too stupid to handle it or…
I don’t know.
Doc kept giving us happy bullshit about not giving up.
Pastor James kept giving us more shit about praying and miracles.
But she didn’t get better. She got smaller and weaker and sicker.
And the medicine made her angry, made her cry, made her throw up, and her hair fell out in clumps, and her skin turned gray, and she smelled like chemicals and death.
I overheard the Doc saying to my Dad that it was in her bones and maybe if they look the right arm off, she’d have more time. Not, she’d get better. Not, it’d fix things, but that it MIGHT give her more time.
I know he was going to say yes. Anything to get her more time. More time trapped in a sick, dying body. More time in pain.
She was crying when LJ went in to visit her that day. She wasn’t when he left, but he was, not even trying not to or hide it. He didn’t say anything to me when he left, just looked at me, looked away, and wiped his eyes and walked out.
She died that night.
My dad still thinks I don’t know what happened. Like I couldn’t figure out that she didn’t just die. Like I didn’t know how much morphine was in her room or what would happen if you took too much of it.
So, that’s it. That’s why I don’t talk about it. She killed herself. It’s supposed to be a sin, you know? Pastor James would have…
But he didn’t know, and we didn’t tell him.
She was sick and she died, and that’s all anyone ever said.
I don’t know how to end this one.
April 24, 1977
I’m so sorry.
I wish I was there to be with you. Wish I could have held you while you said that.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a sin. Not then. Not like that. I don’t think God holds it against you when you’re suffering. And I don’t think He’d have wanted you or your dad to spend this much time feeling bad about it.
She was sick and hurting. She died. She’s not sick anymore. And she’s waiting for the day (a long time from now) when she gets to see you again.
I do believe that.
I love you,
April 24, 1977
I love you, too.
P.S. Wanted to say that for a while. Wanted to make sure you got it, quick. Real letter soon, when I’ve got more time.
That is the last letter in that album.
He thinks that their long-distance courtship was probably a good thing. Miles apart meant they got to know each other by letters. Meant that he got to know her in a way that would have been more difficult in person, because he knew what they did in person. (Made out.)
If he had stayed in Stillwater, or if she had been a local girl in Lejeune, he wouldn’t have gotten to know her as deeply as he did through those letters.
And he’s awfully doubtful she would have gotten to know him, because when it came down to it, even with her, talking was hard. Silence was his armor, and he was comfortable in it. Writing his thoughts down was a halfway space. He could let those thoughts out without having to say anything.
He flips through the next album. Mostly light letters. Another Marine Ball photo. Pictures of the two of them splashing around at Lake Conneaut, (his Dad had taken them out for a picnic one afternoon when he’d had leave, wanted to meet this girl his son was so taken with) he makes sure to get a shot of that, wanting one of them playing with each other. There were a few shots of him being a Marine taken by various buddies that he’d sent her. And there were shots of her at school that her friends had taken. There were shots of school that she had taken. A series of self-portraits that were her final project for one of the classes.
She had gotten a few candids of him while he was home. One was him working on the Challenger with his dad. He’d forgotten that one even existed, and took a shot of it for him. He wants to put that one up.
There’s a series of portraits of him, also taken for a class. (Though he suspects that might not be precisely true. He’d been a bit cagey about sitting for formal shots, but she wanted them, and he was home, and it was for a grade and… And the result was some really good shots of him, looking significantly more relaxed and happy than he does in any other formal picture that’s ever been taken of him.)
And there are shots of both of them. At the end of the session where she was taking shots of him, there were still three frames left on the film, so he pulled her into his lap, and she used the cable release to get the shots.
He’s smiling, chin on her shoulder, arms around her. She’s kissing his cheek. He took a shot of that one, too.
They were engaged for five months. So there’s a bunch of wedding letters.
And then they were married, so the frequency of letters dropped quite a bit. Sniper training was six months, and he was home most nights. For two years after that, he was home most nights. Never sent away for more than a month at a time.
But in ’81 he was stationed in Germany. The letters picked back up again.
He’d gotten one about six weeks after he’d left, and remembers that one very well.
August 13, 1981
Don’t know how to say this. I’m so excited!
Talked to the Doctor today. (He remembers seeing that and putting that together with excited and starting to feel an electric current flowing through his knees and elbows.) ‘Round about the beginning of May we’re going to have a baby! (He actually shouted when he read that. Let out a whoop of joy.)
Get your butt home, Marine, you’ve got a daughter to meet! (She always thought Kelly was a girl. He kept hedging the bet, but Shannon was sure.)
Shannon & Baby
He didn’t write her back on that one. He pulled rank, bullied, verbally abused, and literally pushed one guy out of line to get to a phone.
He’d completely forgotten about the time difference, so it was three in the morning for her.
Eight rings in and he was about to hang up, resign himself to a letter, but a groggy, “Hello” met his ears, which was when he realized it was the middle of the night where she was.
“Shannon, I just got the letter, are you sure?”
He could feel the smile over the line.
“Oh yeah. You’re gonna be a daddy!”
He was grinning, giddy, wanting to jump up and down, but there was a huge line of guys also waiting to use a phone, and he was a Corporal, supposed to have a certain level of decorum, so he didn’t.
He also didn’t know what to say to her, but he didn’t want to hang up, he just wanted to be there with her, hold her, feel her breath against his skin. But that all had to wait. “I love you.”
“I know. We do, too.”
We! A tiny, little person was growing in his wife. “Oh, God, it’s real.”
“Yeah, Gibbs, it is. Gotta get back here, you’ve got a crib and rocking chair to build.”
“Yeah, I do. And… dresser? Changing table? Toy box? What else?”
She was laughing, letting the happy out. “I think a crib and rocking chair’ll do for right now.”
He was staring at the ceiling, buzzing with emotions he didn’t know what to do with. “You tell your parents?”
“Yeah. And your dad. They’re all over the moon.”
“Yeah.” The guys behind him were starting to grumble. “Okay, I’ve got to go. Can’t be hogging up the phone. They’re already pissed because I butted in line.”
“Go. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
He takes shots of a few of the letters that followed, pictures of the sketches of the crib and rocking chair, pictures of Shannon’s belly slowly getting bigger, the two of them bouncing names around.
He was sent back home again in November, and then right before Christmas got drug back out again to go spend some time in Nicaragua.
He’d told Tim about those letters, making sure he got one out every single day, and he glances through them seeing that a lot of them were variations on the theme of ‘I’ll be home soon.’
And he was. Kelly was due May 10th. He got home the first week of February. Should have been plenty of time. But Kelly had different plans.
For the next five years, he tended to do four months on and four months off. Letters tended to be based on baby things, what he was doing, Shannon’s school work, stuff like that. He takes shots of a few of them, just to give a feel for what that time felt like.
And then the flavor of the pictures changes.
He picks up the next album, knowing what’s in it. He feels it, sitting on his lap, his fingers resting on the cover.
He had thought the idea of the Polaroid was stupid at first. They already had a camera. They had a good camera. She’d been a photography minor, so they had a good camera, a lot of good lenses and filters, and while she wasn’t developing her own stock anymore (Though he’d had plans to build her a proper dark room once they got a house. They were still saving up, wanted a place big enough for him to have a woodworking space, and a darkroom for her, and a backyard for Kelly to play in and…)
But it was her birthday money from her parents, and if she wanted to spend it on a camera she had already told him wasn’t very good, then he wasn’t going to say anything about it.
But not saying anything about it didn’t mean he wasn’t going to give her a few choice looks about it.
She just gently swatted him on the ass and said, “If Kelly cooperates, nap time’s ‘round two. Trust me, you’ll like this.”
“You’ve got her down?” Shannon asked when Gibbs came back into their bedroom.
“Good.” Then she handed him the camera. He was still feeling a bit stupid about this. It’s a camera, how much fun can it be? Then she started unbuttoning her shirt, and he suddenly felt like there might be a whole lot of fun things they could do with a camera.
She saw it really hit him and smiled, big and wide and happy. “Still think film that develops on its own is stupid?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
The first ones are just nudes. Ones he took of her for his own viewing pleasure. (Though he gave her strict instructions that if she ever took any for him to never mail them to him. Pictures, no matter how graphic, were expected to be shared. And pictures that didn’t get shared more or less guaranteed that you got your stuff rifled through to find out what you got.) Ones she took of him for her. (He was shy about that at first, which felt weird, not like lots of people hadn’t seen him naked. Of course, lots of people hadn’t seen him naked, hard, and wanting sex. But eventually he got relaxed enough to be on the subject side of the camera. But he can see how stiff (and not in a good way) he is in the first few shots.)
Some of them were Shannon just messing around, seeing what she could do with the Polaroid. Composition. What the flash could do. There were some ridiculously under and over exposed shots of him in the all-together. Likewise she was messing around with focal length, seeing how close and how far away she could get and still get good shots. (There was one so close up and out of focus that the only reason he can tell it’s his dick and not his thumb is because he was there when she took it.)
Eventually the quality of the nudes got better. More put together looking. Better focus. More likely to be properly lit.
Eventually the idea that they didn’t necessarily need to put the camera down when the sex started also crept in.
Eventually she figured out how to get the tripod in place, and how to use the cable release.
And eventually those shots got scorching hot.
Eventually he started getting letters that ended with, ‘Looking through the photo albums, thinking of you, Love Shannon.’ And reading that would get him so hard, so fast.
He hasn’t done this since before she died. Hasn’t been able to. Didn’t matter how hot the shots were, sadness killed his hard-on and just left him grieving, angry, and craving enough alcohol to kill the parts of his brain that remembered why he was sad and angry.
Technically speaking, he’s never done this. These books were hers. When he was away he didn’t have the space for a full photo album. But he did keep a small book of whichever new shots really caught his interest.
(And every time he was getting ready to ship out again, they made sure that both of them got a new set of shots to play with for while they were apart.)
But he used to do something like this. Back against the wall, pants open, one hand flipping through the pictures, other in his lap.
His pants aren’t open, yet. (Can’t open. He’s wearing sweats). Hand’s not in his lap, either. But he’s not opposed to the idea of trying, seeing if he’s able to enjoy what they had without the loss of it crushing every iota of pleasure he could take from it.
It’s been long enough that he doesn’t remember what the first one is. He knows he’s at the end of the just nudes, because he can remember Shannon setting up the tripod and saying, ‘Let’s see what we can do with this,’ but he doesn’t remember what’s on the next page.
He flips it over.
He remembered them out of order.
She’d handed him the camera and said, ‘Take pictures,’ then shimmied down his body and started to blow him.
It’s her face, lips, tongue, and his dick. She’s licking the head of it, flat of her tongue flush on the underside of the tip of his dick, just about to pull off, eyes on the camera, half-smile on her face.
He feels his body throb at it, remembering how that felt, her tongue lapping at him, hand holding him firm at the base.
For the first time in years, he started to get hard without any touching.
Next shot down was her sucking him, cheeks little bit hallowed out, eyes sparkling at him. He could hear how she’d moan quietly while doing it, soft little mmmmm… delicious sounds. He loved those sounds. Loved how much she enjoyed him, and always acted like that, like he was delicious, like his physical body was something she craved every day, missed every night he was away, and was something she could never get enough of.
He certainly felt that way about her.
The film was expensive, and he didn’t want to burn through all of it, but when a minute went by without him taking another shot, she looked up and asked, “Not liking this?”
“No. I like this just fine,” he said, very sincerely, because he did like it, loved it.
“You aren’t taking pictures.”
“Don’t want to go through all the film.”
She smiled at that. “One pack is for you. One’s for me. You’ve got eight shots left.”
“Oh.” She licked him again, tongue trailing over his dick, and he decided he really needed a few more shots of that.
By the third shot he’s hard, and determined to enjoy it, enjoy this. Not let the sadness of the loss overwhelm the pleasure of what he had had.
He takes off his t-shirt. It’ll do duty for a cum rag.
He scoots out of his pants, wrapping his hand around his dick, looking at the picture, Shannon taking him all the way down. His hand moves slow and steady, the way her mouth would have. No need to go fast, plenty of time, this is just the opening round.
Half of his film was gone, and he felt his balls pulling up, knew he needed to switch things up or this wasn’t going to last all that much longer. He gently stepped back, then helped her stand, pulling her face to face, for a long, ravishing kiss.
When he was back from the edge, and she was breathing faster, he handed her the camera. “What do you want pictures of?”
Next page. They’re on the bed, instead of standing next to it. She was lying on her back. He was kneeling between her legs. The photo is cropped to just show him and her legs. On his left, her knee rested against his hip. On the right, he was holding her ankle, her calf against his chest. He was cradling it in his hand, kissing the hollow, as the fingers of his left hand trailed down her inner thigh.
The sense memory attached to that one hits like a hammer.
She used to wear… something. He doesn’t know what it was. It smelled good. Sweet, floral, yummy. The scent of it made him want to eat her alive.
It tasted nasty. They’d been married for a year when he finally said, “I love the way you smell,” and then licked her throat, over her pulse point, one of her favorite places to be nibbled and kissed, and where she’d also dab the perfume, “but this stuff tastes awful.”
She winced. “Really?”
She messed around with a few other scents, and eventually decided to try a few drops of vanilla extract. The real stuff, not the vanilla-flavored goop. And while it’s true that Kelly hated the way that tasted, that was because it doesn’t taste like it smells. It tastes like what it is, alcohol that vanilla soaked in.
Which meant it wasn’t a problem for Gibbs.
And that image, his teeth gently sliding over the hallow of her ankle, where she’d dab a little of the extract brought back the scent, vanilla blended with her skin, and the feel, the smooth stretch of her leg against his stomach and chest, the silky warmth of her leg under his fingers.
For a second there, he was back, gently kissing and nibbling his way down her leg.
And a second later, he’s sitting on the floor in his bedroom, looking at pictures.
But that was always the way it worked. He’d be alone, looking at the shots, get so into them, into the memories attached to them, that he’d lose himself for little moments of time. For a few minutes, he’d be making love to her, and sure, eventually the real world would come back, but he could shut it out, and pull a few more minutes of time with her out of the ethers.
Part of him fights that, trying to stay firmly here, now. He’s fifty-six, at home, alone, looking at pictures, trying to enjoy memories of the life he lost.
Part of him doesn’t want to. He’s twenty-seven, at home, with his wife, baby napping, taking advantage of the time they’ve got alone.
He gives in, surrendering to it, burying himself in the memories triggered by the pictures.
Kissing his way down her leg, the feel, taste, smell of her skin on his lips. The way she’d gasp when he’d bite gently. (And sometimes not so gently, but that didn’t happen all that often. Usually when he was getting ready to ship out. They both liked having a mark that’d last. He’d just smirk at the other guys bragging about the marks on their chests or shoulders or back. His were never easy to see, upper, inner thigh, just the way he liked it.)
Spreading her legs wide, taking the time to suck and lick every inch of her, riding the waves of her pleasure and her cries.
He’s there, wrapped in her taste on his tongue, the feel of her hair against his face, wet on his lips and nose and fingers, her legs wrapped around his shoulders, rubbing himself with her juices while he licked her through her climax.
There, in that moment of her body tight and pulsing on his, wet, sucking throbs around his fingers, his own body hard and eager, kneeling, pulling her up to ride him, catching those last few twitches as she sank down onto his body.
Kneeling, her lips on his, facing him, his hands cradling her butt, hers in his hair, then on his face, holding him, kissing and kissing and kissing again as they rocked together.
Face to face, eyes open, no words, no words could cover it, but touch, glorious hard soft wet rich pleasure touch over and over up and down and in and
There, that second, his body going tighter, harder. Hers moving faster. Blood pumping, her teeth closing on his lip. Her hand tightening in his hair, pulling his head back. Her lips on his jaw, teeth on his throat.
He’s grunting with each breath thrust, pulling her even harder against him. Deeper, more, faster, wet and soft and everything slick and pumping hot pulse pleasure as he arches into her and things blank out into a gentle white ecstasy.
And like before, coming out of it is disappointing. The part of his brain that was fighting it probably had the right idea.
He’s not twenty-seven, and he’s not home with his wife, and it’s not nap time, and none of that will ever be real again.
Gibbs wipes up, feeling… He’s not sure what this feeling is.
Better than the last time he tried this. He’s not despondent. He did get off. He doesn’t want to break things or kill people.
He guesses all of those are steps in the right direction.
His head tilts back, resting against the side of the dresser, his eyes are closed, and he’s breathing deeply.
“I miss you.” He shakes his head. “Miss you so much.”
He doesn’t see her, but he feels her presence very clearly, and with it the sense that this is something he should be doing.
He looks around, sees that it’s only two in the afternoon. Lots of time.
He picks up the first album again, and this time starts to read straight through, not skipping around, not looking for things to illustrate what love meant.
This time he’s just trying to be close to her, just remembering who they were, and trying to get closer to being at peace about not being that any longer.
It’s well after eight when he closes the last album. He sits there, staring at nothing, holding it against his chest.
The last shots, like the ones that made it to Kelly’s growing up book, are from New Year’s Eve, 1990.
Kelly went to sleep at midnight.
They didn’t sleep at all.
The Polaroid was especially bad with low light shots, so the last collection of them were all sort of vaguely orange-brown, deep shadows in black, highlights in gold.
He’d brought the ones he’d liked best along with him. The ones that were left were for her. It’s probably not prophetic or foreshadowing, just that she preferred to have shots of him, and he preferred the ones of her, and they both liked the ones of both of them.
But even with that, the last shot does feel like foreshadowing.
The last shot is of just him.
He’s resting in their bed, on his side, head on his arm, leg draped so that his dick’s hidden. His eyes are closed, and his muscles relaxed.
There are probably fifty other versions of that shot through out those books. They don’t mean anything, other than she liked to get shots of him napping.
But that’s the last of the naked pictures. There are still letters. The date on the last one was February 4, 1991. Nothing special about that day. Him writing about how much he didn’t like what he was hearing about possible pull outs from Iraq and that there was no point to this if Hussein was still in place when they left.
He knows he wrote letters after that one. But he doubts she stuck them in the books the second she got them. And the ones that didn’t make it into the books didn’t come home with him when he packed up their place in California.
He puts the book down and rubs his eyes, remembering he’s working on something here, besides just sitting around until his entire bottom half had fallen completely asleep.
He sighs and looks through the pictures on his camera.
He’s got shots of them playing, and their home, and the things he made her, and the close, easy intimacy.
He doesn’t have a sex shot.
And he’s not sure if he wants to add one.
Sex is part of love, big part of what he and Shannon had together, always was, but those shots… They’re his, and private, and… his.
But he gets the sense she wouldn’t have minded if he shared one. Not in this sort of context.
He goes flipping through again, looking for something erotic but not explicit. He finds a good one. She’d set the camera with the tripod and cable release, they both knew where in focus was, and either of them could just hit the release and snap a shot without getting out of bed.
She’s on top, looking into his eyes, and he’s looking into hers, faces about four inches apart. On the far side of the shot, her hair is long and loose. On the near side, his hand is in her hair, holding it back, so her face, and his, is visible for the shot. The shot cuts off mid-back. It’s clear they’re naked, clear they’re in bed, but her arm blocks her breast, so it’s not too revealing.
Well, it’s not too naked. The faces are revealing. Pleasure, joy, happiness, love, all of it is clear on both of their faces in that instant. They aren’t looking at the camera, so it’s in profile, but he thinks anyone can see the love in those expressions, and in the gentleness of his hand in her hair, or the way her fingers are curled around his shoulder.
He snaps the next one, too. She was lying on his chest, head on his shoulder, (his face is blocking the view of all of her face but her chin) he was kissing her forehead, so all Cranston will be able to see is the back of his head. But that’s not really important. He’s looking at their hands. His fingers were lightly slipping down her spine. Her fingers were stroking over the back of his neck.
They weren’t done in that shot, though it wouldn’t be an insane assumption, just getting a break if he remembered right. After a minute, she pushed herself back up, straddling him, rising and falling as he palmed her breasts.
He turns the page. Yeah, he remembered right.
He didn’t take another shot of those pictures. The first two get the idea across. Rachel doesn’t need to see Shannon, head back, face tight, skin flushed rose, mouth open, climaxing as he sat up and licked her breasts. She doesn’t need to see the one after it, where his fingers and arms have gone tights, his jaw clenched as he comes with her. Or the one after that, her slumped into him, cradling his head against her chest, both of them sweaty, relaxed, panting, and smiling.
Almost done. He’s got shots of just about everything, now, but no fighting shots, either, because who takes photos of fighting? But that’s part of love, too.
Just, nothing he can take a shot…
He stands up, slowly, rebalancing and wincing when his full weight hits the damaged knee, and then reaches for the box with his medals in it.
His purple heart is in there, and yes, it’s still got the slight dent on the top, and the scratches along the back.
He’d never gotten one before, so he didn’t know how it worked, not really.
He didn’t want her to worry, so he hold her the if you bleed you get one (which is true), and it was just a scratch, barely anything. (How he thought he’d get away with that lie, told to a woman who knew every inch of his body, he doesn’t know, but he was dumb enough to try.)
She wasn’t there when he got the ribbon. But they mailed the actual medal and the citation for how he got it home.
Which meant she read the whole story, and how ‘just a scratch’ meant almost bled out from a shrapnel wound to the thigh.
When he got home that night, he was really excited to see that Kelly was off spending the night with her parents.
Then he found out she was off spending the night with her grandparents so Shannon could full on scream at him without upsetting their daughter.
She’d thrown the medal at him, and he ducked. It hit the mantle hard enough to leave a small dent and scrape up the back.
That’s what all their worst arguments were, each of them being scared for the other.
She found the vasectomy scar.
Three other wives, who knows how many one night stands, four lovers, none of the rest of them ever noticed that scar. It’s tiny. It’s not in an obvious location. (It was intentionally not in an obvious location.) But she saw it, and what had been a very, very good afternoon rapidly turned into a very, very big argument.
And it was another stupid thing, because sooner or later she would have started asking about maybe they should see a doctor because she did want more children, and she would have continued to not get pregnant, so obviously something wasn’t working right.
But as he said before, and will likely say again, scared guys do stupid things, and with the memory of that c-section bright in his mind, along with how her voice sounded when she said, ‘Gibbs, I can’t see’ he was world-class scared and that brought on massive stupid.
He couldn’t do it again. Couldn’t risk it.
Though, in retrospect, if he had just told her, she would have been okay with it.
And while she never got okay with him not talking to her first, she understood he was scared, and understood that he couldn’t bear to let her see him scared. That that was just as bad as being scared for him.
That was one of the few times where his Dad’s ‘the world won’t end if you wait’ line made sense. Had he been a bit older, bit more sure of himself, he probably could have said to her that he’d never, ever been so scared in his life and that he’d literally rather go up against a firing squad than ever feel that way again.
But he was barely twenty-four when Kelly was born, still twenty-four when she found the scar, and he couldn’t say that, especially not to her, not then.
Their last argument, the last thing he ever had the chance to say to her, over a static and pop filled connection that he’d practically had to kill to get was about testifying in that case.
The Feds were telling her they could keep her and Kelly safe. They were telling her about how many people she’d be able to help by getting this guy off the street.
And she had her own sense of duty and honor, and how you had to stand up for what was right. And testifying was right.
He begged her not to testify. The whole thing just scared the shit out of him. Set all his warning sensors off. Woke him up out of a dead sleep in a cold sweat, nightmares he couldn’t remember, but knew had something to do with it racing through his head.
By then, he was enough of a grown up to say, ‘I’m scared.’ And she was, too. But she was also sure it was right. He’d killed a man. She saw it. It was her job to make sure it didn’t happen again.
And doing the right thing mattered more than being scared. After all, wasn’t that what he did every single time he went out there?
He didn’t have a good response for that. He never had a good response for any of it, other than flat out begging her not to do it.
“Shannon, please, don’t.”
“Please.” And he ran out of time.
He put the rest of it in a letter. But, by the time the letter got there, they were already dead.
The picture of the medal by itself probably didn’t mean much, wouldn’t, and there is no way in hell that he’d try to get a shot of the vasectomy scar. But it didn’t take much effort to get his pants down again, so he gets a shot of the scar on his thigh, and he flips through the nudes until he found a good one of her belly, takes a shot of that, cropping it carefully, so only the scar is visible.
That will do, until he sees Rachel and tells her about it.
He heads downstairs, to the table where he tosses his keys, wallet, and ID when he comes in, and takes one last picture, it’s his badge. There’s nothing left from that last fight, nothing left of Hernandez or the car crash that killed them or the bullet he put through him or begging Shannon not to testify.
All that’s left is him, and who he became because of that.
And the badge symbolizes that well enough.
He sat in front of the computer, finished attaching all of the photos, put them in more or less chronological order, put Rachel’s email address in, and spent a moment looking at the subject line. Then he wrote: 1000 Pictures One Word.