Chapter 288: Distance
Professional distance is something that, if you could get her to admit it, Cranston finds difficult with some clients. Not that that’s terribly shocking or anything, every counselor has that client who, for whatever reason, is hard to keep off in a nice, safe little box.
Sometimes you just like people, and when you like people, they get inside, and when they get inside, that’s bad for professional objectivity.
Which is part of the reason why she’s got Gibbs mailing her stuff ahead of time. She does like him, and she is finding it difficult to keep the distance she needs from him.
She was skimming through what he wrote about his failed loves, saw, not just the length, but the intensity, and knew that part of keeping her own emotional cool would involve making sure she had time to read, think, feel, and process before she added him and his emotions to the mix as well.
She can feel her own inner ethicists yelling at her. She likes Gibbs. They do not have a good starting relationship for a client therapist relationship. The power dynamics are wrong. The history is wrong. Kate is a great, big, neon flag of wrong. (Some of the things Kate told Rachel about Gibbs, which is part of why she’s interested in knowing him better is also a massive heaping pile of wrong.) The way he sees her is wrong.
But she’s also dead certain that, unlike Tony, whom she could refer off to someone else, Gibbs will not talk to another person about this. If she refers him off, that’ll be the end of this. He’ll curl back into his shell and never crawl out again. (You’re justifying. Yeah, well, I’m also right.)
And she doesn’t want that for him.
So, (her inner ethicist thinks this is BS excuse making and that she knows what she needs to do, and not doing it is wrong) she gives him homework assignments so she’s got enough time to deal with what he’s giving her and can then listen to him with a calm mind.
Still, even with all of that, she was very excited to see 1000 Pictures One Word show up in her inbox. And very, very curious to see that it had 70 attachments.
She opened the email and saw they were pictures.
She wasn’t expecting pictures. She probably should have. ‘Tell me what love means to you?’ What’d she expect, poetry? Another essay? The guy rarely talks if he can avoid it.
Next assignment, he’ll probably carve her something.
She goes through his pictures, watching the love story unfold, (amazed at how young Gibbs and Shannon are in the beginning. She knew they had to have married young, but, Lord, they’re teenagers in the first shots.) seeing them slowly age, seeing Kelly join the family. Mostly she makes note of the joy. She knows that most people only take photos of happy times, but there’s a deep, settled quality to the happy in these.
She was mildly surprised to see how far he took the photos. (And somehow, not very surprised at all to see he had photos like that to share.)
She’s not sure what the purple heart means, but does take note of the fact that it’s dented and scratched. Unusual for a medal. Especially for a man like Gibbs, she’s expect his medals to be kept in pristine shape. She assumes the scar that’s clearly his goes with the purple heart. She’s not sure what, besides a c-section, the scar on Shannon means. (Or why it’s off with the purple heart and the scar on his leg, and not with the shots of Kelly as a baby.)
Likewise she isn’t sure what he’s telling her with the badge.
But tomorrow she’ll find out.
She makes a few notes for herself as she looks through. Questions as to what this or that means. (Like the laundry room, badge, and the Purple Heart.)
But when she gets to the end of the pictures one thing sticks out, and she wonders if he knows he was doing this.
What does love mean to you?
That’s his answer. And she wonders if he thinks he’s showing her examples of what a loving relationship looked like, or if he knows that what he’s saying is that, to him, love is Shannon?
Closing her email, she stands up, and heads to her book shelf. She has a decent-sized collection of Mark Twain and knows which one she wants. Her fingers find the Diary of Adam and Eve and skip to the back cover, and then back a few pages to Adam’s final words, spoken standing over Eve’s grave.
“Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.”
She sits down, finger marking the page, book in her lap, forefinger gently tapping the cover, and sees that this is Gibbs’ fall. That life with Shannon and Kelly was grace, Eden, and a bullet tore it to pieces.
This isn’t just the loss of love, this is the loss of innocence.
And no matter what, innocence is one thing Gibbs can’t get back.
“Three cups?” Rachel asks as Gibbs hobbles in on Monday morning. She notices that he’s got one in his hand, go bag slung over his shoulder and down to one crutch.
He handed the cup over. “Thought you might like one.”
“You’re getting me coffee?”
“Sure. You drink coffee, right?” he says while unpacking the cups he brought for himself from the go bag.
“Yes.” There’s some tension in her voice. Part of it is wariness from her own reactions to Gibbs, part of it is wondering how he’s reacting to her. After all this is an emotionally vulnerable guy who doesn’t have intimate relationships with women who are equals and has a bad track record when it comes to not sexualizing relationships with redheads.
He catches that wariness. “It’s not a problem is it?”
“That depends, why did you get it?”
He shrugs. “I thought you might like it.”
She can see by the look on his face he knows he’s tripped over a line, but he’s not sure what line or why. “It’s friendly?”
She raises an eyebrow.
“It’s easier to talk if we’re just two people sitting around talking over coffee.”
She nods and takes a sip. It’s good. Hot, creamy, sweet, hint of nutmeg. The way she likes it, and very much not how he’d fix it for himself. “That’s fine. If it makes talking easier, then I’m happy to have coffee with you. But somewhere in your mind, you need to remember that this isn’t a date, we aren’t just getting to know each other, and I’m not another redhead you’re working on charming. There are lines, Jethro, hard rules, and this doesn’t work if we don’t follow them.”
He nods. “I know.”
“Yeah.” He nods, suddenly very aware of how easy it would be to slip into the idea of Rachel as another woman he was courting, and how that would fuck everything sideways. He nods again, voice serious as he says, “I do.”
“Good.” She sees the smile on his face. “What?”
He shakes his head, licks his lips, looks away, sheepish, and then looks back at her. “You might not want to know.”
“Just bringing back the memory of slapping myself upside the back of my head about your sister. Had a very long conversation with myself about how she was my employee, and too damn young, and I’d already made that mistake once and no one ended up better off for it.”
He sees the smile on Rachel’s face. There’s a knowing flavor to the amusement in her eyes.
“But you already knew about that…”
Rachel nods. And she’d heard the other half of it. The frustration of too old, too divorced, too bitter, too married to the job, too much of a bastard, too much her boss.
Gibbs shrugs. He wasn’t surprised that Kate felt it, too. Would have been a whole lot easier if she hadn’t been interested in him because, for whatever reason, he never sparked for a girl who wasn’t at least mildly interested in him back.
“So, tell me about the photo essay. How long did it take…”
They spent most of the hour going over what he’d taken pictures of, what different details meant, how it fall fit together.
By the end of it Rachel was sure that, yes, to Jethro, love meant Shannon. And as long as that was true, there wasn’t going to be any getting past this.
“Jethro, try to put it into words. Just a few of them. What is love?”
He stares at her, swallows his coffee, takes another sip, stares some more, thinking, that’s clear on his face, but eventually he shakes his head.
“Are there any words in your head right now? Is it that you can’t say it, won’t say it, or there’s nothing to say?”
“There’s nothing to say.”
“Give me your wallet.”
He’s looking at her like she’s crazy, but he hands it over.
She very carefully took the picture of Shannon out, feeling the years of attachment, the decades of love in the frayed edges of the picture, and then held it out to him. “Jethro, is this love?”
“And that’s why it never works, why you never fall in love with anyone else, because you keep trying to get this, again, don’t you?”
She tucks the picture back into his wallet and hands it back to him.
“Jethro, you are never going to have her again. That life is gone. Shannon is dead. Kelly is dead. The man you used to be, is dead. None of it is ever going to come back.”
“Do you? Do you know it in your guts and bones, can you feel it in your soul, that this is never coming back, that you can never rebuild this, and hoping and praying and trying is never, ever going to get it back for you?”
He blinks, slowly, silently, and swallows, hard.
“Have you ever said the words?”
He looks at her, pained, curious.
“Have you ever said, 'My wife, Shannon, is dead?'”
He thinks about it, sure he must have at some point, but he also realizes that he’s never said it to any of his women, even with Susan, he’d never said the word. He told her he was a widower, but left the details vague, and the word dead never crossed his lips.
He opens his mouth and feels every word he’s ever had go skittering off. Then he closes his mouth and shakes his head. No. Not right now. Not today. Not to her. Especially not after the hours he spent looking at the pictures.
“That’s next week’s homework assignment. Say it to someone.”
He nods, and begins to pack his stuff up.