A chance sighting in the park makes the last fifteen years a lie.
Rich, auburn tresses drew his eye. He had always had "a thing" for redheads. She had a brisk, yet feminine, walk that promised as fine a view at her passing as her approach. Her brindle buddy, an English Bulldog, was an unique choice for feminine companionship. A short skirt and simple t-shirt left an expanse of pale, freckled skin accessible to the sun and eye alike.
"The park bench, pond, dying of boredom ... does this remind anyone else of Burgess Meredith in Grumpier Old Men? Did you know he played the Penguin in the old Batman series?"
"Shut it, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped, reaching back to give himself a slap to the back of the head. Losing focus over a short skirt was something he expected from DiNozzo, not from himself.
"I have a black Jeep Wrangler entering the park, license plate number tango, zulu, eight, eight, four, one. It is the brother," Ziva confirmed. "He appears to be alone, and is headed Tony's way."
"Hold your positions."
She was closer now, making her way down the steep path. A low hanging branch snagged her hair and she reached up to smooth the copper kissed strands. Stepping free of the trees, she tilted her head back, the warm sun welcome on her face. His heart caught in his throat as a smile curved her lips. She looked so God damn much like Shannon. Raw pain coursed through his body like napalm as memories of Shannon and Kelly flashed before his eyes.
"We have company. A local LEO just rolled in," DiNozzo murmured.
Her free hand came up, her fingers wrapping around something in the hollow of her throat. She touched the necklace briefly to her lips before blowing a kiss heavenward.
"He spotted the LEO and is leaving the park. Do you wish me to pursue?"
His tortured gaze locked on the Saint Christopher's medal as it dropped back to her throat. Her name was on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn't force the word past his lips.
"Gibbs! Do you wish me to pursue?"
The urgency in Ziva's tone finally tore Gibb's attention back to his team. An uncharacteristic expletive preceded his order to, "GO!"
How many times in fifteen years had his heart leapt at the flash of a fiery mane? Three failed marriages...all shams searching for what he had lost. A shudder ran through his tense body and a low, animalistic moan of pain escaped his closed throat. Why here? What was it about this place? He spun, surveying the park, swaying against the force of his memories like physical blows. Snapshots of the woman from this afternoon alternated with those precious flashes of Shannon and Kelly. Each picture, each memory, was a kick in the gut. Like coming out of the coma and being told all over again, the pain was fresh here.
He had lost it today. He had endangered his team. The brother had lead them straight to the Petty Officer, but end result be damned, that was unforgivable. Gibbs had seen the concern in their eyes when he had sent them back to DC to wrap up the paperwork without him. He needed to get his head on straight. He would have liked to have said, get over it, get it out of his system, but time had proven that impossible. The loss of his wife and daughter was a wound that would never heal. Maybe he didn't want it to. Something always came along to rip off the scab. The redhead this afternoon had cut deep, leaving him shaken. The theory went that everyone has a double. Appearance aside, he couldn't explain the feeling of connection. Fifteen years of visiting their graves screamed that they were gone, but his heart wouldn't listen and now his gut was getting in on the act.
Professional courtesy was still alive and well in the southern small town. The local Sheriff had easily identified the redhead in the park and her brindled pal as Shannon Grant and Gunny. The hair on the back of Jethro's neck had stood on end. He had been a Gunnery Sergeant serving in Kuwait when Shannon had witnessed the shooting of a Marine in Oceanside, California. She had identified the shooter as a drug dealer, Pedro Hernandez, and had been in transit to testify when her NIS/NCIS driver had been killed. They had told him his wife and daughter had died in the ensuing accident.
"She has a grown daughter, Kelsey, fire crotch just like her mother."
The steel in Gibbs tone made the man's leer slip a little. "I just meant she is a redhead like her mama. Beautiful women, both of them, but both have a hell of a temper."
"Did you do something to piss them off?"
The Sheriff laughed this time. "No more than you are getting ready to. I asked her out."
"I've made somewhat of a study out of redheads over the years. You got an address for me?" Jethro asked with a wry grin.
Gibbs clicked his cell phone shut. Fury, hope, confusion, suspicion, they warred within him. For a man that didn't believe in coincidences...there were just too many here to jive. There were holes in the woman's history you could drive a Humvee through and little to nothing before 1991. He studied the modest brick home, undistinguishable from the others lining the quiet street except by the careful landscaping. A hint of lilac wafted on the breeze and a lump formed in his throat thinking of the tiny bushes Shannon had planted in their backyard. Those starts were now over eight foot tall. His eyes scanned the neighborhood, finding the fragrant purple flowers only in her yard. Was it possible they had been four hours away for fifteen years and he hadn't known it? Slamming his palms against the steering wheel, he opened the car door.
A bark of tires and the powerful roar of the Excursion's engine kicked his gut into overdrive. The black vehicle careened to a halt between his vehicle and the Grant residence spilling out dark suits and drawn weapons.
"US Marshalls, drop your weapon!"
"NCIS," he announced, not lowering his Sig.
"Let's see some ID," the younger Marshall demanded.
"Is this going to turn into I'll show you mine if you show me yours?" Gibbs mocked, flipping open his badge on the hood of the car.
"I'm Marshall Woodard and this is my partner Marshal Timmons. Why is NCIS investigating Shannon Grant?"
"NCIS has no interest in Shannon Grant."
"Cut the bullshit Agent..." The Marshall glanced at the badge again in confirmation. "Gibbs. Your agency ran a background check on Shannon Grant less than thirty minutes ago. I'm going to ask you one more time and then we are going to get the higher ups involved. What is your interest in Shannon Grant?"
"You might want to get those higher ups on the phone, junior, because someone has a lot of explaining to do. My interest, as you put it, is in Shannon and Kelly GIBBS."
"Oh fuck." Timmons muttered, stepping back from the ice in Gibbs gaze as he made the connection.
Brushing past the flabbergasted Marshalls, Gibbs crossed the street and jogged up the steps. Despite outward appearance, a knot of uncertainty sat heavy in the pit of his stomach. She had moved on with her life. What if she didn't want to see him? How could she have not let him know somehow? The Sheriff had made mention of a Navy flyboy in her life. What had they told Kelly about a father who wasn't there for her? His hand shook as he reached for the old fashioned door knocker. Hesitating, he pressed his palms to the smooth door before resting his forehead between them. He took an awkward step back as the door swung inwards. Their eyes met. He fought to force words past the lump in his throat, afraid she would close the door. His voice cracked with emotion. "Shannon..."
A trembling hand covered her mouth. Eyes wide, her head shook back and forth in denial.
Gibbs tried again. "Shannon..." his words died off as she pressed into his arms with a sob. Rocking, he burrowed his nose in her copper tresses, lost to everything but the feel of her in his arms again.
"At least move this inside before you get her killed," Timmons grumbled, herding them into the house, forcing Gibbs to lift Shannon off her feet as she refused to loosen her hold on him. He stumbled over the stocky, wiggling Bulldog, almost taking them both to the floor. Shannon let out a gasp, her arms tightening around his neck, and then she started to laugh. Gibbs looked down at her in surprise, a smile curving his own lips at the beauty of her laughter. He managed to pick one intelligible word out of her laughter,
He laughed, nuzzling her neck and remembering their wedding night as they dropped down onto the couch. "I didn't trip. I didn't want to wait for the bedroom."
"You never did. Kelly coming along curbed your spontaneity a bit, but the bedroom was usually only good for a second round."
"I don't remember you complaining."
"Sawdust in my hair, splinters or grass stains on my butt," Shannon smiled at the memories. "No, I wouldn't have changed a thing."
A dual frame on the mantle displaying on one side a handsome officer in Navy dress whites and on the other the same man in pilot gear grinning proudly beside a F-18 Super Hornet sobered Gibbs. His chin dropped to his chest for a moment. "They told me you both were dead."
Shannon closed her eyes to the pain in Jethro's voice; it was a pain she knew all too well. "They moved us out in the middle of the night. We weren't given time to pack. They assured me they would get word to you in Kuwait and you would be brought home to join us." She looked down at her shaking hands and tears streamed down her cheeks. "We weren't allowed anything that connected us to our past. They took my wedding ring. Who would have recognized that besides us?"
He opened his mouth to reassure her that he would get another one and snapped it closed again, the picture on the mantle commanding his attention. Shaking his head, he squeezed her hand.
"It was two weeks later that they told us you had been killed in action. They wouldn't let me plan a funeral service for you, just said they would make sure you were laid to rest with honors." Shannon glared at the US Marshalls. "It was a lie from the beginning."
Gibbs nodded. "I was never told you two were being placed in witness protection. I was told that your NIS driver was shot and killed transporting you to testify and that both you and Kelly were killed in the ensuing accident. I have seen the vehicle's remains, touched your blood stains and visited your graves for fifteen years. They have a lot of lies to answer for."
Woodard grimaced at the hard glint of Gibbs' stare and glanced to his partner who was still on the phone. "As a Federal Agent surely you understand that your presence here not only violates WITSEC policy but endangers the life of your wife and daughter as well."
"Hernandez is dead," Gibbs said flatly.
"There is no evidence to support that claim."
Gibbs just smiled and shook his head. Still holding Shannon's hand, he stroked his thumb over the smooth length of her ring finger.
"WITSEC has never lost a witness when they followed the rules. I'm not about to let a cowboy like you put a black mark in my file."
Gibbs hand went to his sidearm at the sound of the front door.
"Mom?" Kelly's frightened voice called as she ran down the hall. She hesitated in the doorway, eyes darting between the Marshalls and her mother. She jerked her arm away when Timmons tried to take her elbow and crossed the room to her mother. "Are you okay? What are the Marshalls doing here?"
The terror in her wide eyes stabbed straight to Gibbs heart. His brain was having a difficult time processing his little girl's voice coming from the twenty-two year old young woman standing before him. Finally her eyes met his and his heart jumped at the flare of recognition.
"He came home, Kel," Shannon choked through fresh tears.
Unable to answer around the lump in his throat, Gibbs nodded.
"I knew it!" Kelly cried and crawled over her mother in an effort to throw her arms around him.
Shannon laughed through her tears at the surprise on Jethro's face. "Kelly never gave up hope. She wouldn't believe that her daddy could die, that you would break your promise."
"I didn't break my promise, Kel," Gibbs mumbled hoarsely into her temple. "I had just got the news about you and your mom when I was wounded. I spent nineteen days in a coma and the following months...years...wishing I could just die and be with you."
Kelly drew back to look up at him in confusion.
"They told your father that we were killed in the crash," Shannon said rubbing her daughter's back in slow, soothing circles.
"I think I missed some stuff here," Kelly said, looking back and forth between her parents.
Gibbs watched Timmons and Woodard from under lowered lashes as he caught up with his daughter and wife, ex wife, Shannon. Jesus, what was she after fifteen years? He had no idea what the legalities of his last three marriages were, or Shannon's marriage to the jet jockey for that matter. Regardless, he had no intention of messing up anything she had going on OR disappearing from their life again. The name Hernandez made both women tense and he grinned realizing they were listening to the US Marshalls as well. Laying his fingers in Shannon's palm he slowly signed, 'Hernandez is dead.'
'Are you sure?' she signed back without hesitation.
Gibbs tilted his head, giving her an incredulous eyebrow raise.
Shannon's shoulders slumped in relief and her fingers danced in her daughter's hand. Their discussion was quick and discreet. Kelly's reaction was not. "Oorah, Marine!" she cheered.
Gibbs threw back his head and laughed like he hadn't in years. Pulling Kelly close, he kissed the top of her head. "That's my Marine brat," he said proudly.
"You can call off the powwow and the threat assessments. I'm leaving the program," Shannon announced, standing to face the US Marshalls.
Woodard immediately started to protest, while Timmon's phone conversation became all the more intense.
Gibbs cupped the back of her elbow, turning her to face him. "Don't you think that is something you should at least discuss with your husband?"
"You were the one that reassured me it was safe. You don't want me to leave witness protection?"
"Of course I do, but I was talking about HIM!" Gibbs said wryly, stabbing a finger at the picture on the mantle.
Shannon looked at him bemused for a moment and then followed his adamant point. She tried to cover the smile that curved her lips and stepped over to pick up the heavy double frame. "Brice?" At Gibbs nod her smile widened, eyes sparkling. "Brice is not my husband. Do you think that a Marine wife would trade down to a flashy Navy fly-boy? Oh no, daddy, Brice is your soon to be son-in-law."
Gibbs looked like he had been pole axed. "That fly-boy is going be my son-in-law?"
Shannon just smirked and nodded as Kelly wrung her hands.
"His carrier is scheduled to dock next week, daddy. I can't wait for you to meet him."
"Oh, I can't either. He serves aboard the Eisenhower then?"
"How did you know that?"
"I'm stationed at NCIS headquarters in the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, Kel. We keep a pretty close eye on the fleet and her movements."
His daughter's grin was unrepentant. "That will come in handy on his next tour."
Gibbs grin left little doubt where his daughter got it. "You would be amazed how handy it is to be a Federal Agent, Kel. McGee runs background checks that make prostrate exams seem non-invasive."
Shannon laughed at the wink he slipped her and wrapped her arms around his waist. Pressing her cheek against his back, she listened to the playful banter she had thought to never hear again. She smiled as he turned in her arms. It felt so right to be cradled to him again. He looked down at her, his gaze searching hers, reading her as he had always been able to. With a definitive nod a decision was made. Their lips met in a kiss that left them both breathless. Foreheads pressed together Gibbs muttered,"Pack it up, Mrs. Gibbs. We are rolling out."
WC ~ 2837
Genre Prompt - Fan-Fiction ~ 3rd Place Winner