McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 309: Goodbye
"It's tomorrow, isn't it?" Rachel asks as they're wrapping up the session.
"Yeah." He doesn't need clarification that they're talking about his wedding anniversary. Only one big thing happening tomorrow, and the advent of yet another Tuesday isn't it.
"What are you going to do?"
She doesn't believe that, but his evasion has her interested. "What do you usually do?"
He shrugs at that. It's been a while since he hasn't wanted to answer her questions but this one's… not so much personal, though it is, it's more that he'd prefer she didn't think he's gone fully bonkers.
But she's learning his different looks and silences, and knows that this is something he wants to say, but hasn't worked himself up to yet, so she pokes a little further. "Don't have a usual, or don't want to tell me?"
He half-smiles, sips his coffee. "I've got a usual. Sounds crazy."
"You're already talking to a shrink," Rachel says with a gentle smile.
"It's straight jacket crazy."
She raises one eyebrow. "I doubt that intensely. No one wraps you in a straight jacket unless you're a danger to yourself or others. Are you going to do anything dangerous tomorrow? More so than usual." After all, he's a cop, a day at the office might be awfully dangerous.
"No." He shakes his head. "We got married a bit before sunset, and… usually, around then, I see her. We talk."
Rachel's considerably less surprised by that than he was expecting her to be. "Does it happen when you aren't alone?"
He tries to remember. He doesn't take the day off, but he also does his best to be home by sunset. Hasn't always worked, but it's probably been a while since it didn't. "I usually am, but if not, then no, it doesn't happen. She waits until I'm on my own."
"What do you talk about?"
"Stupid stuff?" He's not sure how to characterize what they talk about. But it's not… important… on any real level. Last year he told her about Tim and Abby's wedding. She liked the idea of him dressed up in the morning suit, and really liked him giving away the bride.
"Nah. Not that stupid. Just… stuff. Whatever's going on. The kind of things you store up over a day or so to tell your spouse. Dinnertime talk. Always wraps the same. I tell her I miss her. She tells me to move on. That we love each other." There's a sad smile on his face. "Just stupid, everyday stuff."
"Talk about Kelly?"
"No." They don't. And he doesn't know if that's because it'll break the illusion in his mind of Shannon, prove she's not really there, or if it'll just make him too sad.
"Do you see Kelly, too?"
"Rarely. Sometimes on the anniversary of their death. Sometimes when I've been close to dead." He watches Rachel for another moment. "Why don't you think that's insane?"
"Jethro, one of the exercises we often have clients do is talk to people who aren't there. Say the things they need to say. That you're doing it on your own isn't a problem."
"I'm telling you I see ghosts. That's not a problem?"
She flashes him a get over yourself look. "One of my clients is a wizard. Full on magic. Summons angels, likes to talk to them about the secrets of the universe. And you know what, I am completely indifferent to the truth value of his magical skills or the existence of his angels because that's one of the aspects of his life that's functioning and makes him happy. And as long as your ghosts are also trying to point you in a healthy direction, like Shannon encouraging you to move on, I have no trouble with you chatting with them. Ghosts in and of themselves aren't a problem. Ghosts encouraging you to do stupid things, that's a problem. Anything like that happening?"
"Then enjoy your visit with Shannon."
"That my homework?"
"Yes." And he can tell, by her smile, that like with enjoying some time with Diane, she expects this to take him deeper than just a pleasant evening.
"How are you going to get what you need if you can't let go?" "It's time, Gibbs." "You need to let go." "You can't get what you need if you're still clinging onto me."
She's said it a lot of different ways, lot of different times. At least every year for the last five years. Said it to him when he was with Hollis. He doesn't think she said it before then, but that's at least ten years now.
"It's time, Gibbs." He's not sure if that's her, or if he's saying it to himself. Either way, when they quit work, he shakes his head at Tim, who invited him over for dinner, gets into his truck, and begins to drive away from his home.
He hasn't been back here in years.
They aren't here. Not really. Names on a stone and bones don't matter, not in any real sense, but he doesn't have a better place to go in mind, so this will do.
He sits down, back against the tombstone Shannon and Kelly share. There's one empty space on it, for him, and sooner or later, and these days he's gotten to the point where he's consistently sure it'll be later, and more importantly, he's also hoping it will be later, Tim, Tony, and Jimmy will carry him here and lay him to rest with his girls.
He feels her before he sees her.
That's always been true. Was true the first time he saw her. There was just a sense that something, someone earth-shakingly important was nearby, and it drew his eyes, made him look.
He saw the red hair, fine build, and warm smile and fell in love before he even knew her name.
Her hand lands on his shoulder, and he grasps it, squeezing gently, not saying anything while she sits beside him.
"Been a long time since you've come here," Shannon says to him, letting his hand go and resting her head against his shoulder.
"Don't know if I like you coming here to remember us. Home is better, or the beach, or somewhere we were together."
He nods and sighs.
The sun is setting and it's starting to get cold. He points to the left, where a scarlet maple filters the sunset, the reason he picked here. "This time thirty-six years ago you were standing in front of a tree like that, getting your picture taken."
"Oh." She looks over at it. This one is bigger, one of many trees, not a lone ornamental in the churchyard. "Why here, why not the church in Stillwater?"
"They remodeled in 2006. The tree's gone. So's the church, really. It's glass and steel now."
"Blech." She sticks out her tongue, and then smiles at him.
That pulls a smile out of him. Emanuel Episcopal Church had been made of the local stone. Quarried less than five miles from the site. It was old, always a little damp and cold, no matter how hot it got outside, the gray granite slowly going black and greenish with time. It built it almost two hundred years. But it was old, and damp, and cold, and growing black mold, and didn't attract new young people, and stone was hard to renovate so that it met with the OSHA codes, so they ripped it down and built it up new and shiny.
She takes his left hand in hers and strokes his wedding ring. "Putting this on you was one of the happiest moments of my life."
"But it's time to take it off. You've spent twice as long mourning me as you did married to me."
"I know." And he does. He feels the weight of those years very intensely right now.
"And this last year, you've done a good job getting yourself right. You're finally letting the anger go and filling up that hole with love."
He's looking at her fingers stroking his. "I miss you."
"I know." She's staring him in the eyes, her expression soft, tinged with sorrow.
"I'm trying." He smiles sadly at her, and she strokes his face, leaning in to press a gentle kiss to his lips.
"I know that, too. And you're succeeding." Her face is earnest and encouraging. "You were meant to be a family man. Being a dad and granddad, it's good for you."
"Yeah, it is."
Shannon shifts around so she was kneeling on the ground in front of him, between his outstretched legs. She holds both of his hands in hers, and stares into his eyes.
"You were meant to be something else, too."
He nods, knowing that the heart of the family is husband and wife.
"All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, Gibbs."
"I know. It's all I ever wanted for you, too."
She squeezes his hands. "You made me so happy. And you can make me happier. You're ready; it's time to move on."
He cups her face in his hands. "How can I be ready for this?"
"Because you are. Because it's time." She shakes her head. "It's more than time. Because the hate and the anger and the guilt are almost gone, you just have to let them go. Because I want you to remember me and smile, not cry. Because I want to stop being your pain and go back to being your joy." There are tears streaming down her face as she kisses the ball of his thumb.
"Not yet. But I will be."
Gibbs slips the knife he always carries off of his belt, and digs a shallow hole over Shannon's grave, then places the ring in it. She smiles, still crying, as he does it, helping him replace the dirt and grass over his wedding band.
"Will I see you again?" He doesn't wipe away the tears that are streaming down his face.
She shakes her head. "Not for a good long time. Got a lot of life left in you, Gibbs, you gotta go live it."
He's quiet, looking at the hole, feeling the lack of her very intensely.
"Gibbs…" He feels both of her hands on his shoulders. She's standing behind him, and he turns to look up at her. "I've never had any problem with sharing you. I shared you with the Marines. I shared your love with Kelly. One of these days, you'll bring another woman here and you'll tell her about me, and it will be okay. You'll love her, and she'll love you, and it will be okay."
He nods, unable to speak.
Shannon bends down, kisses his forehead, and vanishes.
He spends a long time staring at the darkening sky, crying for what was lost, fearing what is new, but when he stands, he feels purged of anger, of guilt, and ready to go on.
It's well after dark when he gets home, and like with burying the ring, he knows what he needs to do.
He goes upstairs, takes his mattress and box spring off the bed, and begins to take it apart. Carefully, slowly, he knows he'll save the wood. Won't use all of it, and he'll redesign, but at least some of the new bed will be made with this wood. The main support structures, probably. The big beams, the legs. That seems fitting to him.
His fingers linger on the oak, drift along it.
It'll never really be goodbye. Shannon and Kelly were so much of his life, so much of who he was and who he is, and that will never change. They're the bedrock foundation of Gibbs.
But it's time to build something new on that foundation.
It takes an hour for him to get it completely disassembled and then all of the pieces down to the basement.
And from there he spends the rest of the night sketching, working on a new bed, something that remembers who he was, honors it, but isn't trapped by it.
In the morning, there's no call out, another paperwork day. He can feel all four of his teammates staring at his hand, seeing the missing ring. He shakes his head. He'll tell them about it, explain, sooner or later, but not yet.
Right now, this needs to be just his.
And right now, they aren't pressing him on it, which he appreciates.