Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 1545
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs
Category(ies): Character Study
Pairing(s): - No Pairing -
Summary: A few soft words and they understood who would brace the timber while the other cut a groove.
It starts with the smell of the ocean. One morning, he'll wake up with the sea in his nose and by nightfall, the basement (or garage, or backyard) will be stacked with lumber and he'll be digging through the pile of boat-building plans he's accumulated over the years.
The first time it happened was in high school. Gibbs was almost seventeen and this would be the year he'd have to decide: college or the Corps. He knew what his dad wanted. He wanted his son to outdo him, to go to the Academy and fly jets for a living.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs Sr. always looked on the Air Force as the best choice he'd ever made. Instead of scratching out a living in a coal mine, he'd flown a P-51, stayed in after the war, and retired to the Eastern Shore, a lieutenant colonel with a guaranteed pension and a good chunk of savings squirreled away.
But he wanted something even better for his son. The Academy was only the beginning. If his boy insisted on a military career, he wanted him to go all the way--fighter pilot, test pilot, maybe even astronaut, who knew? Or hell, with his brains he could end up one of the Joint Chiefs.
Gibbs would have none of it. He'd always gone his own way, and he'd be damned if he was going to spend four years playing soldier in Colorado Springs just so he could strut around like the precious bastards he'd encountered when they lived on base. He wanted to work for more than just a living. He wanted to serve.
Father and son had never gotten along very well, but Gibbs was proud of his old man. He was even proud to carry his name, though he hated to be called Leroy. His father called him Junior and his mother called him Jethro. Most everybody else called him Gibbs if they wanted an answer.
The boat had been his mother's idea.
She'd suggested it one Sunday morning on the way home from church. Gibbs immediately saw it for what it was: a scheme to get her husband and son to spend time together before he left home. She worried about the growing silence between them and she remembered the boat that Leroy built before they were married. She remembered sitting on his parents' back steps and watching him while he worked. He'd been happy then. They'd both been happy.
Leroy said it would cost too much and Jethro said he didn't have the time. But they both knew better than to cross her for long. The very next weekend there'd been a trip to the lumber yard just outside St. Michaels. And, as with most of his mother's notions, it had worked out like she wanted it to.
Her son and his father still didn't talk much, but when she sat on the porch steps with a glass of sweet tea to watch them work, she could see the way the wood bound them together. A look told Jethro what tool was needed next. A few soft words and they understood who would brace the timber while the other cut a groove.
Gibbs had finished that boat on his own, the summer after his old man's heart gave out. He'd called her June for his mom.
Gibbs's next boat never got finished. He'd tried. But every time he picked up a sanding block, he could feel the small hands that used to hold it while he guided her. Slow and even pressure, kid. Work with the grain of the wood. He could hear her questions and the way she laughed at his answers.
It had been a family-sized boat, meant for long weekends and Sunday afternoon picnics. It wasn't the right boat for a drowning man, so, after some time had passed he'd pulled it apart. The usable pieces went to Habitat for Humanity. The rest went into the fireplace, a little at a time, until there was nothing left.
Boat number three was supposed to perform a miracle. The sleek little day-sailer was supposed to save Gibbs's last marriage--or at least keep it on life support for a few years. It was a peace offering. A way for them to spend time together doing something they both enjoyed. Something that needed them to work together. And everyone in Newport sailed.
It had been fun, at first. Diane had violently red hair and a temper to match. She'd go toe-to-toe with Gibbs over the smallest thing and, damn, it was sexy. Especially the making up. There'd been more than a few memorable end-of-hostilities cruises on Diane.
But teaching game theory at the Naval War College wasn't going to give Diane the academic acclaim she wanted. She'd grown frustrated and angrier than ever. Soon, they were arguing over everything, including Diane--the boat wasn't big enough; she should be docked at the country club instead of at the Newport base marina--and Gibbs got tired of the fighting. Making up had lost its fire and the screaming battles escalated. Gibbs knew it wouldn't be long before his own Domestic Violence Unit came knocking on their door.
His assignment in Paris had seemed like a good way to cool things off, but their marriage had started out rocky and the separation ground it into quicksand before long. Gibbs justified his affair with Jen Shepard against the parade of career-minded young lieutenants who took his place in Diane's bed.
When he got back from Paris, they'd had one last knock-down drag-out. It left him with a concussion and the charred remains of what used to be a sleek little day-sailer.
This boat was for Gibbs. It had started with the smell of the ocean and then, like that first time with his dad, a trip to the lumber yard. He was living alone for the first time in years. He'd bunked with Ducky for a few months after he got the job in DC before finding this house with its warm hardwood, honey-coloured moldings, and basement workshop.
He'd thrown out all his boat-building plans and designed this one himself. A 25-foot pocket cruiser with an 8-foot beam and a 3-foot draft. She wouldn't be one of those lightweight weekenders. This boat would be heavy and seaworthy. She'd be capable of serious, long-distance offshore cruising, but easy enough to single-hand. Gibbs wasn't expecting any company on these trips.
He could take his time with this one, unlike Diane. There was nobody waiting. Nobody to complain about the time he spent working on it. His boat wasn't designed to perform any miracles.
The choice of wood had taken some time. He considered white oak, mahogany, and teak before settling on Alaskan cedar. The smell of cedar permeated the house and reminded him of the sweaters his mom used to knit. The scent clung to them long after they were unpacked for the winter.
He could take the time to do it right--no power tools, every inch of the boat shaped exactly the way he pictured it. Gibbs had made the templates and sawn each of the frame pieces, shaping the deck crown on the ends by hand. He applied the cedar laminate to the plywood core outside, while the weather was fine. He could have used a hand with the clamping, but he managed on his own and was pleased with the result.
Building the boat became more than a pastime. It was what he did. Coming home after a day filled with dirtbags and bureaucracy, he found solace in the basement. As he worked, the wood seemed to absorb his cares and his disappointments. He'd listen to the news and sip bourbon from a thick white mug. Sometimes he fell asleep down there, cradled in the the frame he built.
And he wasn't always alone.
Ducky stopped in occasionally to check on his progress and share a bottle of particularly fine Scotch. Fornell knew he could always find Gibbs here if he wasn't working.
In the wee hours, after she'd been out clubbing, Abby sometimes came and sat on the steps for awhile to watch Gibbs work and ask him questions about the physics of boat-building. She said it helped her come down from the Red Bull high and actually sleep for a couple of hours when she got home.
And Gibbs didn't mind DiNozzo dropping by with the excuse of work and then staying to lend a hand with the framing. Tony usually brought pizza and there always seemed to be a game that they could listen to while they worked.
McGee had never found a reason to visit Gibbs at home. Neither had Kate, although she hadn't been convinced that Gibbs was really building a boat in his basement. She thought it was another of DiNozzo's urban legends.
But the boat was real enough. And every day she came closer to being finished. There'd be brass fittings and plenty of brightwork. He figured he'd worry about getting her out of the basement when the time came, but he'd already half-settled on a name: Rule 8.
Anyone who needed to would already know what it meant. If you had to ask, Gibbs would tell you that you didn't need to know.