Tis The Season to GibbsbyTara_Neale©
"Special Agent Gibbs, you asked to see me? I take it there has been a break in my son's case."
Jethro shook his head, "Sorry, sir. We are still in the process of investigating your son's death. I came here tonight on something a bit more personal. Your daughter-in-law and granddaughter have been under protective custody since the shooting. Well, tomorrow being Christmas, we are planning a bit of a party for the child," he had not known exactly what to say when he made the decision to come here, but even to his ears, this was not going the way he had hoped. "I wanted to invite you and your wife to join us. For Kelsey's sake."
The man frowned and shook his head, "I don't know what my former daughter-in-law told you, Agent Gibbs, but my wife and I are not close to the child. Things are difficult as I can imagine you understand if you have spent any time with the child."
Jethro stepped forward, squaring off with the man. "The child as you say has a name. Kelsey is your granddaughter and she just lost her father. I don't think it would be too much to ask if you and her grandmother stopped by for a bit on Christmas Day."
The man stared back at him, "Even if she were our granddaughter, and I have not been certain of that in some time, Clarisse and I do not intend on mollycoddling the little urchin the way that woman has. If the child has problems, then do the decent thing and send it away to some school where the experts can give it the best chance for survival. That's what the woman should have done, years ago."
His face became a twisted mask of hatred as he continued, "Please tell her that I know my son was in the process of re-writing his will. Did your investigation reveal that, Agent Gibbs?" he questioned maliciously. "Nevertheless I will bring all of my considerable resources to bear to make certain that she and her bastard receive exactly what's coming to them. Now if you will excuse me, I have guests waiting."
The young man stepped forward, "I'll show Agent Gibbs out, Grandfather."
"Thank you, Michael," the man smiled at him. "See that you do," turning back to Jethro, he added, "If you need anything else for your investigation, please contact my attorney. Good evening, Agent." The man walked deliberately from the room without another word.
The younger man stepped forward and smiled, "I'm sorry you had to see that, Agent Gibbs. I apologize for my grandfather. He might have seemed unsympathetic to Kelsey's cause, but please try to understand, that was simply how things were done in his day. Children with special needs were sent away, it was just a fact of life. My step-mother's refusal to do so has made him a bitter and vindictive man."
Jethro stared at the young officer as he took a small package wrapped in shiny, red paper and tied with a dark green ribbon from his pocket. "I didn't know how I would get this to her, but I hope you'll give this to my little sister. She hasn't had it easy in life. Between my grandparent's archaic ideas and our father's ridiculous demands for DNA tests. But if you will just let her know that her big brother is thinking about her, I'd appreciate it, sir," he smiled as he handed over the package.
Jethro nodded and followed him out of the room. Something did not feel right. But then again, how could anything feel right when her only family turned away that precious child. Palming the package, he placed it in his coat pocket and headed home. He still had a Barbie Dream House to put together. He only hoped that the doll would be happier there than these people seemed to be in this dream house.
Debbie puttered about the kitchen putting the final touches on Christmas dinner. Everyone had arrived already. They were all in the living room, drinking egg nog, eating the leftovers of Santa's cookies and unwrapping presents. But after last night, she knew that the only thing she wanted was not to be found under that tree...although the thought did bring to mind some pretty vivid pictures of him tied in red ribbon and wearing nothing but silk boxers. She smiled at the thought.
"Hey, can I help?" asked the ever bubbly voice.
"No, Abby. I was just finishing up in here. How's it going out there?" Debbie noticed that the woman was wearing the leather jacket that she had gotten her.
"All right. Timmy really liked your Christmas present," she said as she picked at the ham that was cooling on the counter top.
"I'm glad. I wanted to show all of you how much I appreciate all you have done for Kelsey these past few weeks."
"Speaking of which I put that thing you wanted in your room when I took my coat and bag there. I don't know why I never thought of it. It's perfect, you know. Just what he needs," Abby pronounced as she hugged Debbie.
For a moment, she relaxed into the embrace. Pretending for a moment that she belonged with these people, that she and Kelsey belonged anywhere. As she pulled out of the embrace she swiped at her eyes with the dish cloth in her hand, "So what did Tony think of Ziva's present?" But the answer was interrupted...
Gibbs watched the odd compilation of individuals as they milled about his home. It was odd, but in all their years as a team it had never occurred to him to invite them over for the holidays. Of course, holidays were things to be ignored, avoided if you could. But with the giant Christmas tree lighting the whole room, the smells drifting in from the kitchen and especially the smiling little angel laughing and hugging the people that were more like family than work colleagues, he was remembering just how special the holidays could be.
He noticed that Ducky had his nose deep in the weathered book that he had read dozens if not hundreds of times. Tony sat at the other end of the couch, drinking egg nog and watching Ziva play with Kelsey. He knew he should do something about those two, but it seemed his unexpected guest had better ideas than his. How the woman had managed to pick the exact thing that Ziva had been looking at the mall, he did not know. Perhaps when this was all over, he should see if she wanted a job. With powers of observation like that, she would make a good NCIS agent.
He raised the cup of egg nog to his lips. Quit thinking like that, he thought. The truth was he was looking for an excuse, any excuse to keep the woman around. The idea of this house going back to the quiet monument that it had been did not bear thinking about. Not today anyway.
Looking at Ziva as she and Kelsey raised the elevator on the Barbie Dream House, he smiled. Watching Ziva with the doll, he wondered if it was the first time. Even as a child, he could more readily see toy guns in her hands than dolls. But the surprising way that she had taken to the child made him wonder if perhaps the consummate career woman was not re-considering her course. Perhaps she heard the ticking of her biological clock. From the scowl on Tony's face as he watched her play with Kelsey, she was not the only one getting broody.
Timmy was all smiles as he approached him, holding the card that had the IP address and code to access some prototype game that was all the rage. "Hey, boss, I know it is Christmas, but I thought I would let you know that I looked into that will and those tests like you asked."
"Oh yeah, boss. Commander Radcliffe had contacted an attorney about re-writing his will, but nothing specific was set forth yet. He was awaiting the outcome of those DNA tests. The results were to be delivered directly to his attorney's office and he had an appointment two days after he was murdered."
"Two days, McGee? You said tests. What tests?" he asked as he watched Kelsey head back towards the tree.
"Yeah, boss, tests. Two of them. One for Kelsey and another on a Michael Thompson Radcliffe, his."
"His illegitimate son," Gibbs finished the thought for the man just as Kelsey reached the tree.
"Hey, look! There's another one way back here," she shouted as she stretched to reach for it.
Time seemed to slow like in a bad movie or in a game replay after the umpire made a bad call. He screamed, "No, Kelsey," as he threw the cup at Timothy. He knocked the couch over, sending both Ducky and Tony sprawling on the floor. Ziva froze by the doll house as he lunged for the child. He shoved her towards the woman, propelling them both backwards. And then it happened.
Debbie looked around the dimly lit hospital room. Kelsey lay across her lap. Her bandaged head rested in her mother's lap, her eyes closed in sleep. The doctors had wanted to admit the child overnight for observation, but Debbie had not wanted to be torn. Instead she had compromised, so periodically nurses stopped by and checked on her daughter.
More accurately torn again. When the bomb went off, she and Abby had rushed from the kitchen. Her heart had stopped when she saw Kelsey lying unconscious next to Ziva. She had raced towards them only to trip over him in the clearing smoke. She had frozen, uncertain what to do, whom to care for first. But Ducky had pushed her aside and began to administer first aid to Jethro. She had gone to Kelsey and Ziva but even then she had kept looking over to where Ducky was working on him.
By the time the ambulances arrived Kelsey had come too. Ziva had a dislocated shoulder, the doctors had reluctantly released her too after they reset it. Tony had reassured them that he would make certain she followed their orders. He had managed to finally convince her to take one of the pain medications that the doctors had ordered. He and Ducky had only a couple of minor scratches, the upturned couch acted as a shield of sorts from the blast.
Timmy, like she and Abby, was far enough away from the blast that he had escaped unharmed. His only injury was a minor burn from the slipped coffee when Jethro shoved the cup at him. With Director Vance, he was following up on the arrest of Ensign Michael Radcliffe for the murder of his father. While Abby paced the room nervously. Her normally bubbly personality dark and foreboding, but the energy was just as intense, like a summer storm building from the heat.
Someone pressed a paper cup into her trembling hand. Debbie smiled up at Ducky, who had finally given up the pretense of reading his book, even though he barely turned the page every half an hour. It was his own trembling fingers that insisted she take the cup of coffee, "Drink this." She nodded and took a single sip of the weak drink.
"He'll be fine, you know. Jethro is tough. I remember the time," he began but his story was cut short as the doctor entered the drab waiting room. His scrubs were covered in blood and his face was unreadable. Her hold on Kelsey tightened as she waited for the man's words.
"We've done what we can for now. We removed shrapnel from his chest and re-inflated the collapsed lung. I'm sorry though we could not salvage his left hand. Of course, with the swelling in his brain that is the least of our worries. I really can't promise you anything, folks. The next couple of days are critical. But he is coming out of the anesthetic. He's asking for Shannon and Kelly?"
A collective sigh went up as Ducky explained, "They are his dead wife and daughter."
The doctor nodded as he looked at Debbie and Kelsey, "I'm sorry. I just figured," he mumbled. "Yes, well, we can allow two people back at a time, but only for a couple of minutes each.
Special Agent Jethro Gibbs looked around. How had he gotten into his backyard. The last thing he remembered was. What was the last thing? Oh yes, putting together a pink dollhouse for Kelly. The Christmas tree shimmering and sparkling as he and Shannon kissed beside the warmth of the fire. He loved the holidays. She always made them so special.
So where were they now? He spotted a young woman conversing with a little girl under the tree. Her dark auburn hair fell about her face so that he could not make out the details, but he got the impression he knew her well. At first he had thought the child was Kelly. She was about the right age, but her hair was much to light to be his daughter. One of her friends, maybe? But then where was Kelly?
He turned to go back into the house to look for his wife and child, but a hand reached out and grasped his. He whirled around, a smile split his face when he recognized his wife. "Hey, Shannon, what's up?"
He did not like the look on her face. It was her 'we need to talk' face. He wondered what he had done wrong now. "Shannon?" he asked.
She nodded, "You have to let us go, Jethro. It's time. We brought you what you need now. But you can't move on and neither can Kelly and I. Not until you let us go. Please let us go," she pleaded to him through tears.
Let them go? Why should he let them go? They were his family. Then it all came crashing in on him again. Like it always did. They were gone. Dead. Murdered. And he could do nothing to stop it. Nothing to protect his family.
Just like he had failed to protect the little girl. Kelsey. He recognized her talking with the young woman. He called out, "Kelsey." And everything went black.
"Clear!" the voice drifted through the haze. "I think we have him back." But back for what, he thought as he allowed his mind to drift off to sleep.
"Debs," he called from the living room couch. The fire was just embers as the sunlight drifted into the dark paneled room. He had been home a week now. If you could call it home. Home was something that he had not known for over twenty years. He worked and he existed. Except thanks to his injuries, he would not be working again for weeks, perhaps months.
Rehabilitation to learn to use a prosthetic. After all his tours of duty, this was not how he expected to lose his hand. He looked down at the white bandage that covered the stump. Not that he would do a god damned thing differently. The little girl was safe. Kelsey would be all right. The threat to her and her mother eliminated.
"Debbie," he called out once more.
The woman appeared in the door way. Her hands were on her hips. "What is it now? More coffee? You can't find the remote? You know, Leroy, you have to be the world's worst patient. Ever."
He loved how her cheeks flamed such a hot pink when she got mad at him. Hell, he might keep her angry just to see that color on them. All the time. Of course, he could do without the Leroy bit. She seemed to know it would irritate him. Rub him the wrong way. But he would much rather she rub him in an entirely different manner.
If some part of him felt a tiny pang of guilt for playing up his injuries, for using her own guilt about losing his hand protecting Kelsey, well, it could go fuck itself. He would do whatever it took to keep them here as long as he could. No longer. Forever. He was not going back to living in a quiet mausoleum. He much preferred the loud laughter that accompanied Kelsey when she burst through the day after school each day. Yes, she reminded him of Kelly, and of Abby. But she was neither of them. She was Kelsey. And she needed him almost as much as he needed them.
He noticed the streak of dark red paint on her cheek and ached to wipe it away. "Sorry if I interrupted your painting," he began.
She glared at him, "I seriously doubt that."
"I was just thinking that perhaps Kelsey would like to go down to the Naval Yard when she comes in from school," he smiled.
"You mean, you want to go. Check in on your team and whatever investigation they are doing now. Don't use my daughter as your excuse, Jethro," she said as she picked up the coffee cup from the table next to him. He reached out and grabbed her wrist with his good hand.
"Deb, you know that she misses Abby and the lab."
Her auburn curls floated gently about her face as she shook her head. "What am I going to do with the two of you?"
'Love us,' was the answer on the tip of his tongue, but he and Kelsey had a lot more work to do before she was ready to here that one. "All right. I'll clean up my brushes. Call it a day with the painting and throw dinner on so it is ready when we get back."
He smiled, "Thanks. How is your painting coming anyway?"
"It is almost done actually. Just working on a few final touches," she replied.
"Are you always so mysterious about your work?" he asked.
She chuckled, "If you only knew."
But there was so many mysteries about this woman that he wanted to discover. What was under the canvas in his solarium took second place to what was under her clothes, that was for certain. But he would bide his time. His skills as a sniper would come in handy on this mission. He could wait. Patiently for hours, days, even weeks. But he had this woman in his sites and she was not getting away. The words from his dream came back to him...'brought you what you need now.' Debbie and Kelsey Radcliffe were most definitely what he needed now.
Debbie tucked her daughter into bed. She reached for the book on the nightstand next to her. "What story tonight, sweet pea?"
"Can Jethro read it to me, Mommy?" her daughter smiled.
She sighed. Her child had latched onto the man from the moment that Director Vance had deposited them on his doorstep, but since the accident it had become even worse. One of the hardest things for parents with children on the Autistic Spectrum was managing their children's attachments. For some they were distant, seemingly uncaring of even those closest to them. But for many others they formed bonds too easily, latching onto virtual strangers like they were best friends.
Kelsey had always been one of those types. Teachers, Scout leaders, family friends, the child trusted everyone. Despite the terrible betrayals she had experienced in her young life. Her father. Her grandparents. Even the young man that had pretended to be her big brother. Debbie bore the brunt of it all, making explanations, excuses and apologies to everyone for the inappropriate behaviors.
But this was worse. After years of craving the attention and love of her father, Kelsey had found a man, who seemed to need the endless fountain of love she had to give almost as much as her child needed him. But it could never work. Kelsey was not Kelly. And she could never be the breath-taking Shannon. She had spent her whole life pretending to be what people needed her to be. Whatever foster parents she was with this month. Her husband and in-laws. The other Navy wives.
Only in her painting had Debbie been able to express who she was. She was lucky that whoever that person was, her work was becoming a sought after commodity. Her agent had usually managed to sale her latest painting before it was even finished. Just the rough sketches or a few photographs of the work in progress from the elusive artist De-Borah was enough to bring in what she considered ludicrous sums of money, more than some families made in a year. But her current work in progress was not for sale. Not at any price. It was to be a thank you and farewell present to the man, who saved her daughter's laugh.
A man, who if she gave herself half a chance, could weave a web around her heart as surely as he already had her child's. But it would all be an illusion. Another lie. And she was finished with living lies. She might not know for certain who she was , but she knew who she was not...and a stand-in for the other woman was not it. And the sooner they all started to face that fact, the better.
"Kelsey, I'm sure that Mister Gibbs is too busy to read to you right now," she replied as she reached for the book, but his hand covered hers.
"Never too busy for my girls," he smiled down at her daughter. The lump in her throat at the look in those grey-blue depths made it hard for her to breath. He was not helping here. She would have to talk to him, establish boundaries like she could not really with her daughter. He needed to pull back, not re-enforce the child's fantasies. But now was not the time for that conversation. Not in front of Kelsey. There would be plenty of time for that conversation tomorrow, when the girl was at school. Yes, tomorrow, she would have a long talk with Agent Gibbs.