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Bridge Over Troubled Water
by: taylorgibbs (Send Feedback)
Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 3328
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Other Female Character, Shannon Gibbs
Category(ies): Alternate Universe, Angst/Drama, Character Study
Episode(s): 6-04 Heartland
Summary: A bitter Vietnam vet meets his salvation. Written for the NFA Decades and Eras challenge.
Author Notes: Thanks to Anna for the beta.
For this AU story, I have set Gibbs’ and Shannon’s year of birth as 1949. This differs from NCIS canon by about ten years.
“I’ll be back in two hours. Ya do what they say, boy.”
Gibbs sighed and tried not to react, tried not to reply. It wouldn’t do him a damned bit of good anyway. He swung his right leg out of the car first and then his left, twisting around to grab his crutches from the back seat. He placed them against the door and stood carefully, trying to ignore the honking horn of the car behind them.
“You hear me, Leroy?”
“I heard you!” He hadn’t meant to snap, but his father was pushing—again. He’d been doing a hell of a lot of that since Gibbs had gotten back from Bethesda. Resting his weight on the crutches, he closed the car door and began limping toward the sidewalk and the VA hospital.
Gibbs knew he should be thanking his father, who drove the eighty miles each way to the VA hospital in Lebanon whenever he had an appointment. He should be happy that he had a roof over this head and that he was able to work at the general store. He should be happy that he’d come home on a stretcher and not in a body bag.
But he wasn’t. He was damned bitter right now and he resented being treated like a child. He’d been in a goddamned war, and even though he was only twenty one, he’d been a man for years. Seeing your buddies blown to hell made a guy grow up a lot faster than most of the people in his small town. But one war wound, a bunch of shrapnel tearing apart his leg, and his father treated him like he was a kid again. Gibbs couldn’t even take a damned shower without the old man hovering.
He gritted his teeth, making his way slowly onto the sidewalk and then into the building. He knew the drill. They’d check his knee and shin to see if there were any problems and then put him through hell at PT, twisting and stretching the newly formed scar tissue and making him put more weight on the leg, checking flexibility and stability. Gibbs didn’t mind the physical pain; it was having to look at his mangled leg that pissed him off.
He barely remembered the explosions that had taken out his men. They’d stumbled into a mine field, that much he remembered. Then the explosions, the screams, the stench of burning flesh, the smoke stinging his eyes. Then darkness.
He remembered too much, and he didn’t remember enough.
Gibbs had awoken three weeks later with a screwed up knee, coming back to a country that had no damned respect for what he’d gone through. It was easy to sit on the sidelines while other guys got hurt, killed. And protest and complain. It was a lot easier to do that thousands of miles away from the warzone, when your only impact was the pictures in the papers and on TV. And the guys coming back who you held in contempt.
Setting his jaw against the pain radiating through his leg, Gibbs maneuvered the corridors and elevator to his doctor’s office and endured the exam. When it was done and he’d redressed, pulling on jeans to cover his scarred leg and swollen knee, he limped out into the office area.
“Jethro, I’m afraid I have to tell you that your physical therapy appointment has been canceled. They asked us to let you know and to make sure you do your stretching exercises and they’ll see you next week.”
He sighed and nodded to the receptionist. It figured. Now he had an hour to himself. He had no idea where Dad went while he was waiting for Gibbs to finish at the VA and he had no interest in checking every watering hole and diner to find out, either.
He patted his pockets as he turned around, nodding as an older man held the door open for him. Good, at least he had his flask. Maybe he could sit outside and numb the pain as much as he dared.
Gibbs hated to take the pain medication, but the alcohol? That was another story. He knew that his father was aware of his drinking, but he didn’t much care. Whatever stopped the memories and stemmed the pain was what he needed. And most days that was bourbon.
Dad tried to understand. He’d been in war as well, but it wasn’t the same. Dropping bombs from the sky wasn’t the same as having your men blown apart around you, and shooting for your life every day. Dad had never been forced to shoot boys with guns, Dad had never had to look a kid in the eye before killing him.
Gibbs stopped in the gift shop and bought a roll of Life Savers, handing over a quarter and taking the change. The mints would mask the smell of alcohol on his breath. There was a newspaper propped against the counter and Gibbs looked over the headlines. Jordan was at war, attacking the Palestinians, a reaction to the assassination attempt on the king and the hijackings and blowing up of the planes last week.
If America didn’t watch out, they could get sucked into that too. Gibbs picked up the paper and read the first couple of paragraphs, shaking his head. It looked like the navy was gonna be a presence there.
Lower down on the front page, Gibbs saw pictures of the anti-war rally down in Valley Forge. Gibbs shook his head at a picture of Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland right out front protesting. He didn’t understand it. Actors needed to act, not be political. Sutherland specifically disappointed Gibbs, considering he’d just starred in Kelly’s Heroes, as well as being in M*A*S*H.
In some misguided effort to bring him out of his shell, Gibbs’ father had taken him to the local cinema to see M*A*S*H, probably because he’d heard it was a comedy. Gibbs had lasted only twenty minutes before lurching to his feet and heading for the door. He’d seen enough blood and guts to last him a lifetime without watching it on a movie screen as “entertainment”.
“You gonna buy that, buddy?”
“Huh?” Gibbs realized his fingers had clenched around the newspaper and he smoothed it out, shaking his head. The guy gave him a disgusted look and shrugged. Gibbs was used to those looks.
What he would never be used to were people calling him a baby killer, people spitting at him. It had happened here before, right outside the VA hospital last week. A bunch of long-haired hippies had pushed and shoved him until Gibbs had lost a crutch and nearly fallen. At least in Stillwater, people respected his father enough to just shoot pitying looks their way. Nobody at home had yelled at him, nobody at home was outwardly disgusted with his service to his country.
Gibbs pocketed the Life Savers and left the hospital, the sun beating down on his Marine short hair. Even though he’d been forced into a medical discharge, Gibbs was a Marine to the core. He didn’t consider letting his hair grow any longer, wasn’t interested. He’d been forced out of service; it wasn’t anything he wanted. And just because he couldn’t serve any more, that didn’t make him any less of a Marine.
He walked past a couple of stores, glancing over at the park across the street. Nobody’d bother him there, but he couldn’t get over there until after lunch, when some of the benches would be empty. Gibbs could drink and be alone, even in the middle of a city like this one.
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again.
Gibbs blinked a few times as the strains of a song he identified with wrapped around him. He’d listened to a lot of Simon and Garfunkel and Sounds of Silence always resonated with him, now more than ever. He leaned against a brick storefront and pulled out his flask, taking a long gulp before stowing it again. The melody wafted out an open door, a counterpoint to the warm September day.
When that song was done, Gibbs heard a clatter and then another song by the duo started, their recent hit—Bridge Over Troubled Water. Gibbs pushed off the wall, making his way to the store.
Mac’s Records had a red and white awning above it, the brick starting to crumble at the picture window. Gibbs went inside, stepping awkwardly sideways through the narrow entry, made even smaller by a table with drumsticks and reeds for various instruments.
“Hi!” a chipper voice said, and Gibbs waited until he was past the table to turn and return the greeting. He was used to just nodding, but something about this woman’s voice had him wanting to return her hello verbally.
He swiveled around slowly, feeling awkward and clumsy on the crutches.
“Hi! Welcome to Mac’s Records,” she said, turning the volume down on the record cabinet.
“H-hi.” Gibbs blinked a couple of times and pulled in a surprised breath. She was gorgeous with her red hair and deep blue eyes, her yellow sundress and smile bright and shiny and welcoming. Innocent in a way he could barely remember being.
She looked at him and then at his crutches, giving him a sympathetic look. It wasn’t pity or disgust, which he was used to. “I’m betting that wasn’t a skiing accident.”
“Not ski season.”
“Not here, but it will be soon,” she agreed. “You like Simon and Garfunkel? I know this song is played all the time, but I like it.”
“Like it too,” he admitted, not knowing why he was continuing the conversation. He’d usually cut and run in situations like this. Then again, he couldn’t run. And she was beautiful… “You Mac?” he asked, feeling like an idiot.
“No. Mac is my uncle. Summer job,” she shrugged. “Earning my bread like everyone else.” She giggled. “Being a responsible adult is not where it’s at. I miss college.” Her smile faded a little and she looked him over again. “But I imagine you’d know all about adulthood. How long have you been back?”
“Almost four months.”
She nodded, frowning. He liked her smiling much more; the frown aged her. He watched as she pulled over a metal chair and pointed at it. “Sit.”
“Sit?” he repeated.
“Yeah. If you sit, I can sit, and my feet hurt.” She kicked up a leg, showing him her shoes…and a lot of shapely leg. He licked his lips nervously and swallowed hard, dropping into a chair. He didn’t want to feel anything right now, especially not attraction to this bubbly redhead.
“So, I’m normally at college. Penn State. I’m a junior. What do you do? Are you in college or are you just bumming around?”
“Not yet.” He had the option to go on the GI Bill, but needed to heal before he studied his options.
“But you are going to go, right?” Why did she care?
“Maybe. Probably.” Because being stuck in Stillwater forever was a special kind of hell.
“What do you want to do?”
“Be a Marine." The words came out of his mouth just as they had many times, without him thinking about them. It had been all he’d ever wanted to do, and now…
“I think that ship sailed,” she replied, dragging her own chair over in front of his. As the song ended, she gave him an apologetic smile and put another record on. He watched her pick one up, look at him and shake her head, and set it aside, then she put on another. He could see the cover of the one she put aside. War by Edwin Starr was being played everywhere. He appreciated her not putting it on. He’d heard enough of that anti-war song to last him a lifetime.
He exhaled slowly as a song he didn’t know started playing and watched as she moved into the back of the store, coming back with a couple of bottles. “You look like you could use a Coca Cola.”
“Thanks,” he replied, rummaging in his pocket for some money.
“I gave it to you,” she emphasized. “Free.” As the song built, she started humming along. “I love the Jackson 5. This is their new hit, called I’ll Be There. Have you heard it before?”
Gibbs shook his head, taking the bottle opener from her and opening both of their drinks.
“There is so much dreamy music now. I love the louder music sometimes, but this, and Bread, and the Carpenters are groovy.” She tilted her head at him, smiling. “We’re having a conversation, and you haven’t even introduced yourself,” she complained, slapping his arm gently.
Gibbs started to stand, an automatic gesture, but her hand suddenly tightened on his arm. “It’s the Seventies, you don’t have to go all gentleman on me. I’m Shannon Mackenzie.”
“Like Donovan? One word name?”
“Something like that,” he replied, taking a huge gulp of the soda. “Jethro.”
“Jethro?” she asked, lips quirking into a smile.
“Leroy Jethro,” he admitted with a shrug.
She nodded, considering that. “Jet is kind of nice. And I like Jeth. Or Lee. What do your friends call you?”
“I should have known,” she said, rolling her eyes. She hopped up, changing the 45 again, this time to Bread’s recent hit, Make it With You. She settled back in her chair, motioning to his leg.
“How bad is it, Jeth?”
“Bad enough,” he replied with a shrug. “Won’t be in fighting shape.”
“But will you be able to walk okay?” she asked, leaning forward and resting a gentle hand just above his damaged knee. He wanted to jerk, to push her hand off him, but her hand was warm and she was touching him so gently, and it was kinda…nice. Even though his muscles tensed, something told him to stay still and not flinch. Her hand stroked in slow circles on top of his pants, warmth penetrating to the muscles underneath.
“Maybe. Hope so.” They had been careful not to tell him too much.
“I think you will,” she said as the song faded away. She stood up again and switched the music to Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head by B.J. Thomas. When she came back around, she squeezed his shoulder.
“I’ve seen you, you know,” she said conversationally, settling back in the chair and crossing her legs.
“Yeah,” A little bit of color stained her cheeks and he had the sudden urge to kiss her. “You come on Wednesdays, and every so often, on Fridays. A man drops you off and you’re in there for an hour and a half or two hours. Then you come out and drink from that flask in your pocket before the man picks you up. I’ve been watching you. I can’t leave the store, so I’ve been hoping you’d come in. I’m glad Simon and Garfunkel brought you here.”
“If you’re at Penn State, what are you doing here? Classes already started, right?” Gibbs asked. He needed to absorb what she’d said before answering it, so he tossed another question her way and waited for her answer.
“Uncle Mac had a spell of some kind. His heart. I’ve been helping out.”
“What about school?” Why did he care?
“Took the semester off. People are more important than classes. Good thing too because Aunt Ellen—she’s another aunt, not Uncle Mac’s wife—anyway, she tripped over her cat and broke her leg and now she’s in traction. She has a dress shop and I need to go work there for a while. I’m leaving once Patricia—that’s my cousin—gets done with school today.”
“Helpful,” he remarked. Aunt Ellen who ran a dress shop. It couldn’t be…could it?
“Well, I try to be.”
“Where are you going?” he asked in a burst of sound and then winced, sipping his Coke.
“It’s a little town. You wouldn’t have heard of it, Jeth.”
He really liked the way she shortened his name. “Try me,” he said, trying to be cool.
“Stillwater?” she asked, a little knowing smile on her face. She really was beautiful.
He gave her a wink, sitting up a little taller. “Looks like you’re going my way, Shannon.”
“Oh?” When her eyes lit up, she took his breath away. “You live near there?”
“One block over and one block down from your aunt’s shop. My dad and I run the general store, right next door to the meat market on your side of the road.”
“Wow,” she said, biting her lip and giving him a look he couldn’t decipher—but wanted to. “You can’t drive, right?”
She nodded. “Thought so. Okay, so when you take me out on a date tonight, I’ll drive. And Jeth, leave the flask at home. You won’t need it with me.”
A date? She was asking him on a date? Should he accept? Should he turn the tables? What did she want him to do? He blinked a few times at her and finished his Coke before he’d worked out his answer.
“You drive, but I handle the rest. Are you sure?”
“Positive.” She leaned in, brushing a kiss over his mouth. “I’ve been waiting to meet you for weeks now. Now that I caught you, I’m not letting you get away easily, Jeth.”
Maybe being caught wasn’t so bad after all.
The hour passed by quickly, with conversation coming more easily with her than it had with anyone else for a really long time. She kissed him again, this time on the cheek, before he left. He’d considered riding back with her, but since he was technically a stranger, Gibbs was sure her family would worry. That wasn’t the way to start a new relationship off. And he had a strong feeling this was a new and significant relationship in his life.
As he limped back to the car, Gibbs knew he was smiling. He settled himself inside, stowing his crutches and sighing. Dad had found a parking spot a couple doors down from the record store, and he was thankful that he didn’t have to rush to get inside the car and hold up traffic in the process.
“How did the visit go, Leroy?”
“Doctor said I’m healing and PT was cancelled.”
“You get something to eat?” His father looked worried. “You don’t eat enough.”
“No. But I will later. I’m going out tonight.”
“You are?” His father smiled wide, the tension lines around his eyes fading for a moment. “With who?”
“Girl I just met.”
“Leroy, I can’t be driving you up here to see a girl.” As his father pulled away from the curb, Gibbs glanced inside Mac’s Records, where Shannon was talking with a customer. He waved, even though her back was to him.
“Don’t have to. She’s coming to Stillwater.”
“Must be some girl to catch your eye,” his father said with a grunt.
“She is, Dad. And don’t worry too much. I’m gonna be okay.”
“Think you are, Son.”
MTAC - NCIS Fic