Chapter 360: Tenderness
Gibbs hears a car pull up, a door open and close, and Mona woof in greeting, so obviously someone was coming.
"In the driveway," he calls out. They're having some amazingly nice weather for the last week of February, so he's taking advantage of it by getting outside and finishing the outside of Shannon.
"What's her name?" Borin asks, walking up behind him as he's stroking another layer of waterproofing onto Shannon's hull.
|Yeah, that expression, there.|
"Gibbs…" She's looking at him curiously. The name of his ship shouldn't send him into what, on someone else, she'd call a panic. On Gibbs, she'll label it as disconcerted.
He shrugs and kisses her quickly. "Hi."
"Hi?" She's squinting at him and then looks at the sailboat. She's, whatever her name is, beautiful. Long sleek lines. She'll just ease through the water, skimming the waves, carried by wind.
Gibbs can see she's not perfectly thrilled with his lack of answer, but... Everything Jimmy said to him about not being able to name this boat Shannon if he wanted to move forward is crashing into him all at once, and he's stuck. He sighs and decides to try honesty. Hopefully it won't scare her too bad. (Granted he was hoping to get a bit further into this than three very successful dates before having this conversation, but… now's the time.) "I've… I started building her back in fall of '12 and… she had a name and there was a plan for what I was going to do with her, and… And everything changed."
"So, she doesn't have a name, or you still think of her by the old name, but you're not sure you're keeping it?"
Borin looks her over, walking around her slowly. "What was the plan?"
"Wake up from the retirement party hangover, dry swallow enough aspirin so I could move, get in, and head off to sea. Just me and her for as long as it took to get the job out of my head. New beach every week. Send Abby the occasional post card so she wouldn't worry."
She nods. "And that's not the plan anymore?"
He shakes his head. "Got some girls to teach how to sail. New plan. New life, really, but I never thought of a new name for her."
She nods, gently touching a dry part of the hull. "So this is Shannon?"
He nods. "Yeah. Jimmy tells me I've got to rename her, and…" Gibbs shakes his head. "He's not wrong…"
"But you've been thinking of her as Shannon for four years and you've got nothing else?"
He nods again, looking at her, feeling like he's standing on the edge of a cliff. "I don't know what to do with this." He exhales long and slow. "I've been looking at the pictures of us on the mantle, too. Not sure what to do. We were married twelve years, had a beautiful daughter, and I loved both of them more than anything else. I… didn't use to talk about them. Just pretended it didn't happen. Never mentioned them at all to most of my wives or girlfriends. I don't want to pretend my life began in 1992. But I don't want you to feel unwelcome. I don't want you…" he rubs his face, trying to think of words for this. "I don't want a ghost constantly hovering in your peripheral view. Don't want you uncomfortable. And I don't know what to do."
She smiles gently at that, takes a few steps closer to him, and cups his cheek. "That's a start. I don't want you pretending that life began in 1992, either, and you don't have to take pictures of your family down."
"Okay. And…" He nods at the boat.
She shrugs. "I don't know. You see me on her one day?"
"I really hope so…" He stares at her, stares at Shannon. "I'm not… in love with her anymore. That was taking off the ring, I think. But, it doesn't go away, you know? It eases up, and you finally get what 'they would have wanted you to move on' means, but there's still…" he touches his chest, over his heart, because he'd be at this for years trying to find the right words. "But it's not all that's there." He feels like that's a pretty lame explanation, but he doesn't have better in him.
"Yeah, I know." She sounds wistful at that.
"Do you know? When I mentioned them the first time, you started to say 'I know,' but didn't. Do you know?"
She swallows and nods. "Yeah. That's a long story. Not for out here."
"Okay. Not gonna press. You tell me when or if you want to."
She nods, still looking at Shannon. "How about this. I'll get us some dinner. You wrap up out here, get cleaned up, and then we'll talk and eat."
"Sounds good. Got about half an hour left on this."
"Okay." She kisses him. Still willing to kiss him, real kiss, not just a peck on the cheek, so that's good. "Hungry?"
"Craving fried chicken all day."
Gibbs doesn't have to think about that. "Sounds really good."
"Back in a bit."
She's walking into the house as he's stripping off in the laundry room. He doesn't mind the way the finish smells, but he doesn't necessarily want his whole house smelling like it. So whenever he does jobs like that, his clothing goes from his skin to the washing machine without taking any unnecessary detours.
She smiles at him, bags of insanely yummy smelling chicken in hand, looks him up and down (he's in his boxers and one sock) and says, "Thought we were eating first."
He smiles, eyes warm, takes the bag of chicken from her, putting it on top of the dryer, and pulls her to him for a long, hot kiss. "You want to eat first?" he asks against her lips.
"No," she says back, lips still touching his, and steps back from him. "But I should. Haven't eaten since breakfast. I'm going to start feeling light-headed soon."
"Then we eat. Let me head up and grab some pants. Little chilly for just my skivvies." Yes, it's been a very nice day, for February, but he doesn't keep his house warm enough for comfortable dinner in his underwear in the winter.
She chuckles at that. "Fire?"
He nods. Toasty fire sounds great right about now.
He comes down a few minutes later in sweats and NCIS t-shirt. She's in front of the fireplace, fire burning, chicken laid out on plates on the floor with thick slabs of corn bread, green beans, and cold, open beer.
"That a pizza stone?" she asks, looking at the eighteen inch by eighteen inch ceramic square leaning against his hearth. It had been there the last time she came over, too, but they hadn't spent any time in front of the fire that night.
"You get it for me?"
He nods again. "I like pizza. I like fire. Never thought about trying the two together. But if you like them, too…"
She smiles at that. "I do, but it's not going to work on your fireplace. Your oven, sure. But heat's got to hit it from all sides, fast, or you end up with the underside burned to cinders and raw cheese on top."
"Hmmm… Doesn't sound good."
He sits next to her and kisses her shoulder. "Speaking from experience?"
"I might be," she says with a smile. "Let's put it this way, there's a reason why you have to light the fire, let it burn, for a while, then push the coals into the back of the oven, then put the pizza into the oven, and if you attempt to skip any of those steps you end up with some rather irate looking tourists who really wanted pizza."
He laughs at that. "How old were you?"
"Fourteen. We didn't usually have tourists in the summer, but they wanted to hike, and we had a place, so there they were. Been out all day, starving. Don't remember why my mom wasn't doing it. Probably some sort of cow emergency. She handled most of the veterinary stuff, unless it was really bad.
"Ended up feeding them ham sandwiches."
Gibbs chuckles, taking a bite of the chicken. Long day of working on the boat, it tastes damn good. She stands up and looks at the picture of Gibbs, Shannon, and Kelly on his mantle.
"You have more pictures?"
"Show me your life before 1992; while we eat?"
He nods at that, too. Standing up, grabbing the photo albums that are just general family shots. He finds another one, taken from his father's house. There are some pretty big gaps in there, but it's a more complete picture than anyone's seen since Shannon.
He moves to the sofa, easier to juggle food and pictures and drinks if they can put everything down on the coffee table.
He opens the first one, while she's eating a chicken wing, and she looks down, swallows quickly and says, "Is that really you?"
He nods. "Probably three-ish."
"You were so cute!"
The shot's black and white, so she asks, "Were you really blond?"
He shrugs. His hair looks light in the shot, but as long as he can remember it's been very dark brown or black.
He flips through shots, the majority of which were from when his mom was alive, so first day of kindergarten, birthday parties, little league, Fourth of July picnics. Not a lot of pictures, not by the standards of today when everyone takes shots of everything, but about ten or so a year. He's slowly growing up across the pages and then he hits thirteen and the pictures stop. The one after that is one he didn't know his Dad had until he went through this album when he took it home from his father's house.
His grandfather had taken the shot. It's him, in his Marine uniform, graduation from Lejeune.
She smiles warmly at that. "Oh, look at you. What'd you do, enlist at fourteen?" she jokes.
"Ha ha ha. I'm eighteen. And I bet there's a shot of you just like this."
She nods. "You ever get to my parents' house and you can see about fifty of them. And I look just as young, green, and proud."
"You think I'm going to be visiting your parents?" He's intrigued and kind of scared of that. Visiting a girlfriend's parents has been on the to-do list for a very long time.
"It's not impossible." She stares at him for a moment. "Are you scared?"
She pokes him gently then she flips back a page. Gibbs, thirteen, playing first baseman. Next page, Gibbs, eighteen, Marine Graduation.
"Lose some pictures?"
He shakes his head. "Lost the photographer. My mom died when I was fourteen. Breast cancer went bad and spread all over."
He shrugs, never sure what to say to that.
"Be a year ago in April. He was lucky, a fast stroke and done. Ducky's mom, she died slowly, over the course of years, and that was torture for everyone. He went fast and it didn't hurt. Good, long life behind him. I miss him, but, I don't regret how he went."
"I get that." She also gets the parallel he's not saying, that his mom died slow, too, and it was torture for him and his dad, her, too probably.
He flips the page, smiles, those shots were taken by all three of them. He remembers that day, home on leave, decided to introduce Shannon to Jack. They went to Lake Conneaut to swim.
There's shots of him lounging with Shannon. Shots of him splashing with Jack. (The shots Shannon took were significantly better than the ones he or Jack took.)
One shot of Jack standing next to Shannon, arm around her, grinning at the camera.
That had been a really good day.
"That's Shannon?" Borin asks, looking at her intensely.
"'Bout a year after we met. Think we're nineteen in that shot." He shakes his head at the dopy grins in some of the shots. It had been a picnic. Sandwiches, cup-cakes, cold corn on the cob, beer. "We're all a bit drunk, too."
"Your dad let you both drink?"
"Now you're making me feel old. Drinking age was 18 then."
She laughs at that, looking at the shots of what would eventually be a family playing. "Never let it be said you don't have a type."
He smiles, sheepish, and then kisses her hair. "Always was a sucker for a pretty redhead."
She smiles, too, and ruffles his hair. "Like 'em high and tight. Not like you can't get a date with me if you aren't a Marine, but, it really helps."
He nods, getting that.
Her voice turns serious. "I was engaged once, long time ago." He can tell by the look in her eyes that it didn't end well. "He was KIA, and I was there when it happened. One second he was there, and the future was there, and life was there, everything that mattered was there, and then boom, it was gone."
He nods, squeezing her hand. "Know all about boom."
"Yeah." She looks at the picture in front of her, Gibbs and Shannon on the beach near a lake. One minute it was there, and the next it wasn't. "Once I healed up, I couldn't go back."
"When I healed up, they wouldn't let me go back. Don't think I would have wanted to if it had been an option," he shrugs, "but it wasn't."
She nods. "I lost him. I lost my whole team. Just dumb, stupid luck I got off the raft first. Without them… the job wasn't worth it anymore. And… " she shakes her head, seeing whatever her personal 'and' was.
He nods. "Know all about 'and,' too."
"That's how you ended up here?"
"Yeah. Spent a lot of years on 'and' as an NCIS agent. 'Back in… '05, might have been '06, while ago now, I got hurt again, and most of the years between '91 and waking up went missing. When I got them back, I had to deal with it, all over again. Been slowly getting a life together since, last couple years really getting it together."
"Are you back together?"
He shrugs. "About as close as I get, I think. I don't know. You back together?"
"Maybe." She shrugs, takes a bite of her cornbread. "If anyone is. Of course, in the middle of it, you can't really tell."
He nods. "I can see how the past didn't work, but I couldn't see it when I was in it."
"Yeah. So, sure. I'm back together. I'm not walking wounded, not anymore. More nights than not I sleep, and I don't even need to drink to do it anymore. More nights then not, if I'm not sleeping it's a case right now, not the past, keeping me up."
"We're cops. I think that's as close to together as we get can hope for."
She nods at that, taking a sip of her beer. "Show me more pictures?"
When Rachel asked him about what he missed about a relationship, what he wanted, Gibbs had had some fairly tame and specific ideas.
He hadn't realized, when he told her about having someone to just talk to, someone to share the quiet with, that what he was looking for was tenderness.
And it wasn't like past wives and girlfriend didn't want to offer it to him. It wasn't like they didn't try. Even Diane, who isn't exactly the poster child for soft and fluffy interactions, tried. But he couldn't take it from them.
He couldn't allow himself to have it. Couldn't let himself properly rest with another woman, because that wall had to always be there, keeping them away from things they couldn't possibly understand.
But he's talking with Borin, his stories interspersed with hers, and there's this moment, where she's talking about how she went from being home with her parents after the explosion that ripped her world apart to the Coast Guard, that he recognizes the difference here, feels it, feels why this time it works, why he can rest. It's like that moment where Tim went from McGee to Tim.
This is shared history for them. Borin gets it. She knows what he lost. For her, one day everything was fine, and before the sun set, her world stopped turning.
She's talking, and right now, he's finished dinner, and is sitting next to her on the sofa, arms wrapped around her. She's got her head resting against his shoulder, nursing a beer between bits of her story, and right this second he's just so content he doesn't know what to do with it. He doesn't know how to express it, but it's real.
So when the story wraps he takes the bottle from her (empty now), setting it on the floor, and kisses her soft and gentle, taking his time, savoring her skin, letting the heat ramp up between them slowly.
There's no rush here (Except for that moment where he more or less leapt up to grab her purse and find a condom; he was moving awfully fast then.) just slow, easy, gentle movements. Trying to feel this with more than just skin, trying to make love in addition to have sex.
And it doesn't feel like it did with Shannon. But he's also not the same man he was back then.
And different it might be, but it's still good. It feels right. More right than any sex has felt in a very long time.
It's not like he's new to sleeping on his sofa. Not like this is, by any stretch of the imagination, the first time he's spent a night there.
But it was the first time he did it with someone else.