Series: Firestorm Universe #4
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 9149
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs
Category(ies): Alternate Universe, Character Study, Friendship, Holiday, Romance
Summary: Mac meets Jethro's "family" and everything changes forever. Part of the Firestorms universe. Crossover with CSINY. Gibbs/Mac Taylor.
It was strange getting closer to home after their week in Florida. Mac’s folks had given them a week vacation, sun and fun, relaxation for Christmas. His parents had completely fallen in love with Jet and their time with them had felt completely relaxed and natural. They’d spent two full weeks in Chicago before driving back to West Virginia then on to Florida. They were tanned now, well on their way to getting back to normal, or at least healthy enough to pretend. Jet’s cast was due to come off in a couple of weeks and Mac’s chest was starting to itch, and was no longer bleeding every day. They were due to be checked out just after the first of the year, so this might be their final fling. They could end up stationed at opposite ends of the Earth, or he could be facing a med discharge, but Mac refused to focus on that right now.
And they were spending New Year’s Eve with the mysterious Shannon Kendall. Mac hadn’t been able to piece together her relationship with Jet yet, and he hated not figuring out a mystery.
“Tell me about Shannon. I know her mom and your mom died together, and you take care of her, but what else do I need to know? Since we’re bunking with her for a couple of days.”
Mac looked down at the bracelet on his right wrist, Jet’s Christmas present to him. It was an ID bracelet, nothing that would draw unwanted attention, but it felt permanent. Jet had an identical one, with Semper Fi engraved on top, and on the bottom their initials. Always faithful. It had become his mantra.
“Sure Shannon will be okay hanging out with a couple of guys in love? She won’t feel like the third wheel?”
Jet cringed. They hadn’t talked about Shannon all that much, and while it hadn’t exactly been intentional, although he wasn’t really looking forward to this. “I really think that we may want to keep our relationship from Shannon. She’s fragile, and I don’t know how she’d deal with this. Its better we just not tempt fate.”
“So…no shared bedroom like at Mom and Dad’s?” Somewhere along the line his parents had adopted Jet.
“No, I want you with us, we just need to be more careful is all. I have a room of my own there, you can bunk in there, I’ll take the couch. Shan will have to understand that it isn’t like it usually is. But I want you with us.”
Mac nodded. Mac listened to the sound of Jet’s voice. So it was going to be like that, was it. Oh. “Well, if you don’t want me to intrude, I can go back to base.” Jethro wanted Mac, with them. Wasn’t as much what he said as his word choices. And the guilty look on his face. Like it usually is?
Maybe he was drawing conclusions where none existed, but he was very unsettled about all of this. “If you sleep with her and disrespect me like that, I can’t stay, Jet. There’s either an us or there isn’t, but you can’t have it all, okay? I’m not trying to be a bastard, babe, but I’m in love with you. This is all a shock to me. You should have told me that there was someone else this close in your life, sweet boy. You had me thinking she was some casual friend, not a fragile woman in need of protection from the truth.”
“I wouldn’t do that, Mac. I said I’d take the couch, not bunk down in Shannon’s bed. She and I, we aren’t like that. It’s not an all the time thing; it’s a convenience thing more than anything. I know that makes it sound horrible but she feels the same way. I’m there, I can make her feel good and forget for a little bit. But it’s done.”
Jet would sit Shannon down and explain to her that he’d met someone else and that it was serious. He’d been gone long enough that she probably had met someone new as well. “I’ll talk to her, let her know that aspect of our relationship is over. I’ll still take care of her, but everything else is in the past.”
Mac nodded. “Just be careful love. Woman scorned can do all sorts of crazy things.” He drew a pattern on Jethro’s good wrist. “And we’re lifers, that was part of our vow right? Semper Fi, career, friendship, love.”
In Florida, in the moonlight, two guys sipping beer had a long chat and made a pact, a vow, and Mac looked at is as forever. He was so in love with his beautiful boy.
“Shannon isn’t a scorned woman, she’s a kid who needs a hand. I can’t imagine her doing something like you’re thinking. It’s not like I’m kicking her out of my life, just putting a stop to a part of it.” Flipping his hand up, he caught Mac’s hand, threading his fingers through the other man’s. “You’re mine, baby. I know we’ve got a tough road ahead of us, but I want us to be together. Friends and lovers, everything else can take a back seat.”
“You don’t know women, Jet. If you hurt her, she might strike out. Some girls are like wounded animals and Shannon sounds really young and vulnerable.” Mac was relieved for the assurance even though he knew he was being completely irrational. “Just be smart, okay?”
“No, I don’t know women, I’ll give you that. But I do know Shannon. Just watch, you’ll be totally blown away at how she handles this.”
“I hope you’re right, sweet boy. I just worry...”
Mac wasn’t smiling any more, and Jet rushed on trying to smooth things over, squeezing his hand. “How do I explain Shannon, without sounding like a total jackass. She’s always had a crush on me, and our moms thought that maybe one day we’d get married and live in one of the houses between their family and mine. I never looked at her that way, at least not seriously, although we have on more than one occasion ended up in bed. I protected her as much as I could from her dad, and when I knew I was leaving, I took her with me. Her dad died right after we left, but he didn’t try to stop her. I think he thought he was better off without her. I pay for her place, and if I can’t handle the barracks anymore, I crash there. She works, but it’s mostly for food and utilities. I’ve been pushing her to get her GED, but she’s still just a scared kid most of the time, who got the raw end of the deal when it came to a home life.”
Jethro turned, looking deeply into Mac’s eyes. “I love you baby, but I don’t want to hurt her. You’ll see when we get there, she just turned seventeen, and she’s out there on her own. She’s making friends through the restaurant she’s waitressing at, but I’m still the one she counts on to take care of her.”
“You’re been having sex with a kid? And you set her up in her own place? Backward city I come from, that’s called statutory rape. Did you forget to mention to me that you’re having sex with a vulnerable kid? Or are you ashamed of something. Course the kid has a crush on you, she probably thinks you’re fucking Superman, Jet.” Mac pulled off to the side of the road and turned to Jet, furious and just a little betrayed that he hadn’t known this about his lover.
“What the hell are you thinking? Vulnerable kid doesn’t need a house and a job. Send her to Mom and Dad, Jet. Give her some structure, not a dick to ride and a hero who is already taken.” Mac leaned in close, gripping Jet’s shirt. “I don’t share well.”
“I was thinking if I left her at home, she’d end up dead or knocked up by some jerk who would take off and leave her to raise a kid on her own. At least here, she’s got an apartment of her own to go to. She’s a great kid who deserves better than she got. I’m really the only person she has now that her dad is dead. He didn’t even look up when she said she was leaving, just said he was better off not having to support her. Every penny I made went to pay for the motel she was staying at during my basics. Once I got assigned to Quantico, I got her an apartment and found her a job and she’s been my responsibility.”
Jethro couldn’t go back on his promise to take care of Shannon, not with a good conscience. Sure he could send her to Chicago, Emily would love to look after her, but he couldn’t ask someone else to take over for him. Shan wouldn’t understand and knowing her, she’d probably bolt.”
“I can’t ask your mom and dad to support her, I promised her I’d take care of her and I will. The relationship is not something either of us planned, but it’s also not serious. She dates other guys, I’ve introduced her to a few guys from the base. But she’s kinda territorial about me. I know, you didn’t sign up for this, but she’s part of my life.”
Mac sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I understand you needing to take care of her, but I don’t think I can share you and if you expect that… It won’t work, beautiful boy. I’m committed to you, as much as I can be and keep our careers safe. I don’t think I’ve been imagining our connection but I have to tell you that I’m shaken by this.” Mac shrugged and looked down at his wrist. “Semper Fi means what to you, beautiful boy? To me, it means my heart is yours.”
“Mine belongs to you, Mac. I want us to be together, when ever we can. You know as well as I do, we can’t exactly move in together and set up house. You have some great options ahead of you, and I’ll go where they send me. But I think we can make this work for us, I want us to make it work. I love you, I love your family and I want you to meet mine now. She’s all I have left anymore, which is why you’re coming home with me. You’re important to me. I wouldn’t bring you here if you weren’t.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t fantasize about us going somewhere and being who we are together. Like Florida.” But even there they’d got some looks, hair too short, bearing too military. It couldn’t work but it had to work, because Mac couldn’t live without Jet.
“I want you to go to Officer Training School. Jet, you’re sharp and a leader. We just need to get you on the track to getting in.” But what Mac wanted wasn’t necessarily what they could do. Securing Jet a position on OTS without any college education would be difficult and Mac wasn’t sure Jet could ever commit to six or nine months of training. Worst of all, Jet didn’t believe in himself to that level yet. “You’d make a damn good officer, Jet. Natural leader. You even bring me to heel.”
“Let’s get our time in and see where we can go. You said it Mac, we’re lifers. I want to get my time in, let the government pay for my degree when I figure out what I want to do.” Jet hadn’t really thought that far ahead, when he was in the desert, he didn't think he was really getting home at all. So that he was here, it gave him a chance to think about what would come after his military career is done. “I’ll think about OTC, I don’t know if they’ll take me but I’ll look into it. It can’t hurt.”
“No pressure, sorry. I just see so much in you and I wish you could see yourself through my eyes.” Mac brought a hand up to stroke Jet’s temple.
Mac wanted to meet Shannon but he was getting intimidated about the relationship she had with his boy. And really upset, even though he had no right to be.
He started the car again, driving silently until they pulled into a parking lot of a small apartment complex. “Let me carry your bag inside, sweet boy. Which apartment is hers?” Mac motioned to the plant on the back seat, Jethro had mentioned that Shannon loved flowers and he’d found the perfect plant.
“You don’t mind? I can manage it.” Jet grabbed the plant but let Mac have his case. There wasn’t arguing with him sometimes. “Come on up, she’s in apartment 4A. It’s not much, but it’s a decent little place. She was working on decorating it and making it feel homey when I left for training before we were deployed.”
“Why would I mind? You carry the plant I carry our gear.” Mac fell into step behind Jethro, checking out his ass even though he knew he shouldn’t be so overt.
“Because you’re just as hurt as I am, you’ve just got more hands.”
“More hurt and you know it,” Mac retorted good naturedly. “Healing, though, sweet boy. Don’t worry. I can handle a few pounds of gear.”
“I landed myself a stud, I could get used to this. You can take care of me anytime you want, baby.”
“Just have to carry stuff on my right side.” Jet knew Mac still had a lot of months before the chest was anywhere back to normal, but it was getting a nice scab over it and it only hurt if he breathed. Jet had taken to sleeping against his right side when they weren’t spooning so as not to harm the wound.
“If it gets too bad, I’ll switch you. I’m not the one who will bleed if I push things too much.” Taking the stairs up, he looked back to make sure that Mac wasn’t struggling. “You ready for this? I wont’ be mad if you back out, a little disappointed, but not mad.”
“I’m a marine, Jet. I can handle it.” But he was still flagging sometimes and he knew his lover knew it. Maybe he should have chewed the entire bottle of painkillers like he’d done when they were at his parents’ place for Thanksgiving, but he was worried about getting dependent. “Be fine, beautiful boy. Soon enough I’ll be carrying fifty pounds again.” He deliberately misunderstood, squeezing Jet’s hand.
“You’re a marine, but I worry. I’m the one who is going to have to tell your mother that you landed yourself back in the hospital.” Jet had promised both Emily and Keith that he would keep an eye on their son, to make sure he didn’t overdo it. “She’s a fierce woman, I don’t want to tell her I failed her in keeping you safe.”
“You worry because you love me, sweet boy. But I’ll be okay. I haven’t bled in a couple of weeks.” Well, he had this morning in the shower, and a lot on Florida, but what Jet didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Wasn’t as if Jet would see with them sleeping in separate rooms and the winter allowing heavier shirts. “Mom is fierce but she’s your champion too, Jet.”
Jethro had called, telling Shannon he was stateside and was bringing one of his friends to spend New Year’s with them. Her sort-of husband was home! He was scratched up in that awful bombing and they hadn’t let her take care of him. They said she couldn’t fly overseas because she wasn’t his wife. And she didn’t have a passport. And she was underage.
But now he was coming home. Shannon and the girls had baked three pies, she had his favorite flavors of ice cream in the freezer, and a roast in the oven. The house smelled pretty and there wasn’t a speck of dust anywhere. She had leftovers and homemade bread for tomorrow and Cora had brought over some champagne and glasses so they could toast 1984.
Shannon thanked the other waitresses silently. The girls had become her close family, a bunch of sort-of aunts. They had become her family here while Jethro was away. She might even make them her bridesmaids when she got her fairytale wedding.
And Shannon knew they would. He loved her and she loved him and love always won. The ladies had been helping her so much! Her Christmas present from them had been a beautiful emerald green dress and some matching barrettes, which she was wearing right now. They had offered to take her shift tomorrow at the diner, and even give her a share of the tips. And they’d helped her with her makeup and Cora even let her borrow some expensive perfume that her husband had bought her for Christmas.
Shannon fingered one of the love stories Edith had given her. She’d dropped out of school young, but Shannon knew that Jethro wanted a smart woman as his wife, not the backwoods gal she was. So, she’d been reading the love stories when Edith was done with them. At first the words were confusing, but she was getting so much better at it. It might take her two days to read one of the books, but she was doing it. Nobody knew why the ‘b’ and ‘d’ always got confused in her head but they didn’t call her a dummy, and good for nothing but spreading her legs.
Jethro wanted her to get her high school degree but she couldn’t do that until she got to be a better reader and the words didn’t get tangled on the pages. Then, nobody would ever call her an idiot, or stupid.
She didn’t want to be like that. She wanted to be like the women who came in, the wives of the Marines who ordered the strawberry rhubarb pie in the summer and Boston Cream in the winter. She wanted to have pretty dresses and tailored pants and fitted t-shirts and blouses. And she wanted to be able to talk about her Marine to all her girlfriends.
The ladies at the diner knew Jethro, of course, but they didn’t ask too many questions. She was glad for that. He was her guardian until she turned eighteen, but he was her best friend and her boyfriend too. He was dreamy with those blue eyes, and his physique was so muscular and strong. And he wanted to take care of her. No man had ever just wanted to do that without some payback and Jethro never asked. She’d given him her virginity and he’d taken it like a gift.
She wiped her hands on her dress and looked at the two Christmas presents sitting on the table. She was going to give Jethro the sweater and scarf she’d knitted, but she had to have something for his friend too. He would get the sweater and his friend would get the scarf. It was the right thing to do.
She heard the key in the lock and stood up, her hands fluttering, she was unsure of where to put them.
Jethro turned the key, peeking his head in the living room to see if Shannon was there before pushing the door wide open. “Heya, sweetheart. How about a hug for a wounded soldier? Just be careful of the arm, I’ve still got the cast for a few more weeks.”
“Jethro!” He had a cast, it was worse than a scratch. Her feet barely touched the ground but she stopped just short of him, touching his face with a fingertip. “Jethro, I missed you. I tried to go over there but they wouldn’t let me.” She melted into his arms, squeezing the stuffing out of him.
“I missed you. I wish I’d known. How badly are you hurt? I’m so glad you’re home now where I can take care of you.” He was strong and solid and she could believe he would be just fine now that she was home. “Your woman welcomes you home, soldier boy.”
“It’s really not that bad Shannon, looks worse than it is because of the cast. Sure I’ve got a broken arm, but mostly just scratches like I told you. Didn’t want you worrying about me, and I’m glad they wouldn’t let you come over there. You didn’t need to see everything that was going on. Not everyone was as lucky as Mac or I.”
“Well, then, it looks worse because I missed you.” She hugged him tighter than tight and the pulled his head to hers and kissed him gently. He seemed really stiff but she figured it was just from his friend being there.
“Missed you too, kid. You look fantastic, what happened to the girl in the cut offs and tank top that I left here? You’re a full grown woman now.”
“It’s winter, Jethro!” She giggled. “I’ve been knitting sweaters and wearing turtlenecks and stuff but this is a special occasion.” She cuddled in again. “Your muscles have muscles. How come you didn’t go soft?”
“Who has time to go soft? Not much to do in the desert besides work out and do what ever it is you’re assigned.” Swinging Shannon out, he looked at the girl he left, and realized she wasn’t the same at all. She had matured and looked fantastic. “You and I, we’re going to have to chat. I want to know who has my girl growing up. There’s obviously a guy that you aren’t telling me about. You’re just looking fantastic, and I don’t believe you’ve been sitting around knitting, not for a minute.”
“Only you, always you. I work, I come back here and then I do things for myself. I’m….reading and stuff. I keep busy.”
“That’s great, Shan, I really want you to get your GED. You are to damn smart to waste yourself by not having it. You’ve got the whole world out there to conquer, just needed the right motivation.” Jet would make sure to pick her up some books and whatever else she needed to finish her education. “I’m not the best student in the world, but I can study with you, or get you any tutors you need. I also happen to know a genius in science, who if you play your cards right will help you out.”
“Well, you’re not going to marry a stupid girl, are you? I have to be prepared. The girls have been helping me. The words don’t get so jumbled if I read them really slowly.”
Moving in so that Mac could come into the apartment, Jet handed Shannon the plant Mac picked up for her. “This is for you sweetheart, from Mac. He’s my best friend, wouldn’t have made it through everything without him. You’re going to love him, he’s great and he’s probably sick of hearing about you by now. Between the people at home asking how you were, and me talking about you I’m pretty sure he knows just how incredibly special you are to me.”
She took the plant, breathing in the earthy scent, and then put it carefully on the table before she took her Christmas package in hand. She handed Jethro his and then walked up to Mac. “Welcome home, soldier.” She tried to sound all womanly and sexy but she probably sounded like a dumb kid. She hugged him really gently and he gasped.
“Mac, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Jethro...I barely hugged him.” She chewed her lip. “The people at home called you in Germany? How? I didn’t have your phone number.”
“It’s okay.” Mac groaned, and squeezed her hand. “You didn’t know. I’ll be okay.”
“I got home a couple weeks ago Shan, but neither of us was ready to face the world yet, so I offered to host Mac up at the cabin, while we healed.” Jet came back around Shannon and put an arm of support out for Mac.
“I should have warned you, I’m sorry. Mac took some shrapnel to the chest, and his wound isn’t fully healed. He knows you didn’t mean to hurt him. I think he was just surprised that you hugged him and he didn’t have time to brace for impact. He’ll be fine, just need to get him over to the couch.”
Mac shook his head, shrugging off Jet’s arm gently and walked to the couch. Hell of a way to meet someone so important to Jet. He tried to catch his breath for a minute, hating his weakness. When he looked up, they were both hovering over him and the poor kid looked to be blinking back tears.
Mac patted the couch and when she was sitting down, he took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing it gently. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Shannon. I’m sorry, for that. You didn’t know and there’s no harm done.”
She blushed and giggled before taking her hand back and standing. “What can I get you to drink. Mac? Coffee? A soda? Hot chocolate? You just sit here and rest. I’m sorry.”
Mac looked up at Jethro with a grin, trying to hide his agony. “Hot chocolate? Shannon, that would be great.”
“Okay!” She went to the kitchen and started the milk warming on the stove. “The percolator should be almost done, Jethro. And the roast will be rare temperature in another twenty minutes. Mac, do you eat your meat rare or do you like it cooked?”
“However you guys make it is fine.” He couldn’t think beyond the fire raging in his chest. Where were his damn narcotics?
Shannon put the milk on the stove and turned back, watching how Jethro stood protectively over his friend. “Do you need an aspirin, Mac? Or a heating pad? Jethro, you’ve been with him, what does he need? What helps?”
She was being a stupid kid again. He was going to laugh at her, both men were. They
were men and she was a girl.
“Aspirin still in the closet outside the bathroom Shan? I can grab that if you get him some water.” Jet grabbed his girl, the look on her face had him worried. “Mac, we’ll be right back with some pills for you. Shan and I need to have a little chat. You okay on your own for a few?”
“I’m good, Jet.” Mac leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes. “You talk, I’ll be okay, get back with pills when you’re done.”
“We’ll be right back to take care of you. Just relax and try to get the pain under control, I know you don’t want to take any major pills if you don’t have to.”
“Yeah. Scram, Jet.” He opened his shirt, sighing at the small flow of blood. He’d gotten some sand under the protective bandage he’d worn in Florida and it was really causing him hell.
Giving Shannon a gentle tug, Jet pulled her into the kitchen. “Sweetheart, what’s going on? You’re not a simpering woman, but you seem so unsure about everything. Mac is a good guy, you’ll like him if you relax a little. Can you do that for me? It would mean the world to me.”
“Just nervous about meeting your friend, Jethro. And then I went and hurt him. I’ll try to relax. I promise.” She grabbed him again, hugging him tight. “I missed you. I love you so much, Jethro. I forgot how you make me feel like soda, all bubbly.”
She kissed him again, her hand coming up to play with his hair. “I love you, my soldier. I’m so proud of you too.”
“You didn’t know, and I should have thought to tell you. Not all the injuries we have can be seen, but you couldn’t have possibly known that, baby girl. Mac won’t hold that against you, he’s a good guy and he’s really been looking forward to meeting you. I’m pretty sure he’s as nervous as you are.”
“Why is he nervous?” She looked out at the man sitting on the couch. “He seems very serious, even more than you.”
“He’s an officer, so yeah he’s pretty serious. And he was hurt real bad, which didn’t do anything to loosen him up. But he’s a good guy, just takes him a while to warm up to new people, his mom said he’s always been kind of shy. But we spent some time up at the cabin, so he’s a bit more comfortable with me than with someone new. Just keep doing what you’re doing and it’ll be fine.”
“How come he got to go to the cabin and you won’t let me go?” She was whining now like a stupid little girl. “Our daddies owned it together for a while.” ‘Til her daddy drank too much and his daddy had to buy him out. “I’m sorry. I need to be mature and realize that isn’t my business.”
“You didn’t get blown up Shan, and do you really want to go back home?” Jet had offered to take her back several times, including for her father’s funeral and she had always resisted.
“Norm asked about you the first day I was in town. Wanted to make sure his girl was doing okay in the big city. I reminded him you were my girl, and that you were doing fine. They miss you there, but it’s also understandable if you aren’t ready to go back there.”
“Norm was always nice to me. Would give me sandwiches and soda. He was one of the only ones besides your daddy who didn’t make me nervous. Ever.” She thought about what he said.
“We’re going to get married there, right? Near all our friends.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to get married just yet.” It was a small lie, but it could buy him the time he needed for Shannon to find a new boyfriend and move on. “But it’s something we can look at.”
“I was’t saying now, silly goose! We could have a long engagement, like three months. Maybe even a year. I’d like that, just so long as I’m yours for always.”
“Like I’m gonna let you out of my life. I promised I’d take care of you when I brought you with me. I have done a pretty bad job of it, but I’ll try to be better. I should send you some place, Mac’s mom would love to have you come up to Chicago. His dad is a teacher, and she stays at home. They could help you out in so many ways that I can’t. But I don’t think you’ll go.”
“Nope! I go where you go! We’re partners forever and for life. I just need a ring now.”
“They could offer you so much more than I can, Shan. Get you a GED and show you the world. Emily, she’s Mac’s mom, and she’s so wonderful, and his dad is so caring. My dad was better than yours, but they were both still emotionally distant. Keith, he’s so involved in everyday life that I was amazed. You could have a family, not just me.”
“All I ever wanted was you. I’ll be glad to visit them, but I’m not leaving your side, Jethro Gibbs. I’m here for life. Gonna be Mrs. Gibbs in 1984.”
"But I'm not much of a family. I'm gone more than I'm here. I can't take care of you like they could. They could honestly offer you the world. Trips and a fancy education that I could never afford to give."
“They cant give me you, Jethro. I don’t want to go stay with some strangers. You’re talking about the parents of some guy you met in some hospital, like I’m a little stupid girl. I have a job. I have you. Someday I’ll have a ring and a bunch of babies. We don’t need anyone else.”
“You can have all that and be able to see more of the world than I can give you. Shannon, you just turned seventeen. You shouldn’t have to support yourself. I can give you some things, but you should be dating and going to school and thinking about prom. You’re missing so much, and I did it to you as much as your dad did. I took you away to save you, but I managed to screw that up and you’re not getting the things you need.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “I don’t want that. Why do you keep pushing me? I can’t even barely read. I don’t want to be a stupid kid. At least I can cook at the diner, make pies, I have friends who are helping me without being uppity. I like it here and I like waiting for you. Makes me feel useful.”
“You’re not a stupid kid, Shannon. You’re as smart as anyone I know. You’re smarter than I am about some things. You just don’t believe in yourself. I thought you might like the chance to go to Chicago and learn a lot more about the world, but it was a suggestion.” It was bad, but Jet didn’t know how to back out now. “I’m glad you like it here, I just always want to give you more. I hope I can manage it some day, since you’re shooting me down.”
“I just need you, Jethro. I wish you understood. You’re all I need. What is it you say? You’re my oxygen.”
Jet didn’t know where all this talk of love was coming from. When he’d left, Shannon had been seeing a marine from the base. He was someone she met at the diner, but Shan had been happy, and Jet had gotten a chance to meet him once before shipping out. “What happened to Steve, weren’t you dating him for a while?”
“No, just a couple of times. Steve got too fresh with me.” She wrinkled her nose. “Most of the young marines just want to…you know. Just want a girl to drink beer and do stuff to. And you took me away from that. I’m not going to do that here. I have to save myself for the man I’m gonna marry.” She looked up at him shyly.
“I missed you a real lot, Jethro. I’m trying to make myself better for me and for you. Smarter. Prettier. Classy. So nobody will be mean and look down on either of us.”
“You don’t have to change a thing about yourself Shannon, not for me or for anyone. You’re just as smart as any woman I know. You get that GED and you can go off to college if you want. You’ve let a couple little things hold you back, but you’re changing that yourself. I don’t need you to be anyone but who you are. If I thought you weren’t classy or beautiful and most of all smart, I wouldn’t have brought you with me when I left home. I could have walked away and forgotten all about you. But I knew you were special and that you’d really spread your wings if I could get you away from what was expected of you and let you really choose what you wanted.”
“I’m not smart and classy like the wives with their designer jeans and nice hairstyles and makeup.” Jethro thought she was all of those things? Really? “I chose what I wanted, Jethro.” She looked at him from under her eyelashes, just like Princess Diana did. “I chose to be yours.”
“Sweetheart, you need to choose to be you before you can be someone else’s.” Kissing the top of Shannon’s head, Jet knew this was not going to be easy. Telling her about another relationship could totally destroy her. “I’m all for you bettering yourself, but it has to be for you, not because you think it’s what I want.”
“I chose to be me. Shannon Kendall soon to be Gibbs. Forever, Isn’t that pretty? Shannon Gibbs? The waitress, the girl who waits for her soldier to come back to her. But I envy them too. They can read the ‘b’ and ‘d’ and I can’t always. They have friends who understand. Mine are all married and some have grandkids. When we get married, I’ll fit in better. I don’t want to be them. I want to be the Shannon who has some of their qualities.”
“I think you do, just looking for them. But if that’s what you want, I’ll do everything in my power to make this happen. I meant it Shan, you want tutors to learn, I’ll get them for you. Whatever you want, I’ll take care of it just like I’ll always take care of you.”
“I just want to be Mrs. Gibbs, Jethro. Nothing else is important.”
“Shannon, let’s worry about getting you the GED and to a point where we’re both ready to talk about it.” By that point, his friend would have moved on to some other guy to obsess about, as girls of her age often did and he wouldn’t have to hurt her. She wouldn’t think twice about breaking his heart if there was another guy and he would be off the hook.
“Okay. I think I’m going to take the test before Valentine’s Day. That could be a good hint. Jethro. We could have a wedding and an anniversary all on the same day that everyone loves love.”
“Okay, Shannon, let’s just do one thing at a time. I can’t make you any promises, but we’ll see.”
“Promises?” She frowned. “All I need is the ring and the wedding date. We’ve been engaged like forever.”
Mac could hear every fucking word. He grabbed a piece of paper and scrawled a note, then let himself out silently. He was not going to do this. He had more honor and respect for all of them than that.
Happy New Year, Jet, he wrote. Semper Fi. I’ll never forget. Congrats on your engagement and life. It’s been fun.
He knew Jet would look for him on base and he didn’t want to be around anyone anyway, so he got some hard liquor and checked into a small hotel. After stopping by base. And getting the news that changed everything.
Shannon frowned, the scent of scalded milk startling her. “The milk! Oh no!” She ran out into the main room. “Where did he go, Jethro?” She looked at a note on the table. “Jethro? I can’t read this kind of writing good. What does it say?”
“Let me see.” Jet read the note once. There wasn’t much to it but he read it a second and third time to make sure he was really seeing it. Mac had left, just like that. “He’s gone Shan, don’t know where and I don’t know why but he left.”
“But he was hurt. He shouldn’t be going off alone. We should find him, Jethro. He shouldn’t be alone. Not when he was hurt and maybe I made it worse.” She dumped the milk in the sink, turned the oven off, and grabbed her coat. “What are you waiting for, Jethro? Nobody should be alone on New Year’s Eve and not your friend especially. He was mad. I hurt him, and he was mad.”
“You didn’t hurt him, Shannon. Not enough for him to run away.” Jet had been the one, whatever Mac heard, it had been taken out of context. But he hadn’t been up front with his lover about Shannon. Now he was gone. “I don’t know where he could have gone Shan. We can look, but if he doesn’t want to be found, we won’t find him. He’s damn good at disappearing.”
“You know what his car is like, right? How many hotels are there around here? Ten? Twenty? We just have to find his car, Jethro.” She probably sounded much more hopeful than she should be.
"I do know. I just don't get what he's doing. If he wanted to leave, he could have just told me. But I thought he understood how much I wanted him to meet my family. He was having a bad day, but I didn't think he'd bail on us like this."
“Maybe he didn’t want us to worry about his wound. Come on, let’s find him. Nobody should be alone on New Year’s. We’ll find him and everything will be fine. You’ll see.”
Before Mac got smashed, he needed something to hold on to and found himself calling Chicago and his folks.
Keith Taylor was getting ready for a New Year’s Eve out with his wife and some friends when the phone rang. He picked it up, stilling as he heard the low pained breaths coming through the phone lines. “Mac? That you, son?”
“Mac? Are you injured again? What is it, son?” Keith gestured to his wife, motioning her over. Her makeup could wait.
“I love him, Dad. Too much, not healthy. Broken now.”
“I know, we know. Is he injured? Talk to us, son. Mom is right here at my side.”
“Can I talk with her? Please, Papa?”
Mac sounded heartbroken, worse off than Keith had ever heard, even in the wake of the bombings.
“Of course…” Keith hesitated for just a moment. “I love you, my son.”
Keith shook his head slowly at the sob in Mac’s voice. “Something has happened and he needs you.”
Taking the phone, Emily knew whatever it was, it had to be bad. For as much as she loved and wanted to be there for her son, Mackai would often bypass her when it came to anything more than idle chitchat. He just didn’t want to worry her.
“What’s going on Mackai? Your father is worried about you, which makes me think things must be pretty rough if you’re calling me. Are you hurt? Is Jethro okay? Nothing happened to you two on your trip did it?”
“Yeah, I’m hurt. He’s got a girlfriend, Mom. Scratch that, a fiancée. She thinks she’s marrying him. She’s seventeen with nobody else in the world talking about their wedding being on Valentine’s Day when we’re supposed to be making this work. When he was going to tell her about us. Happy New Year, huh? He didn’t let on how important she was ‘til today. Must have known I’d know we were over. And then….” He couldn’t say the rest.
Mac couldn’t stop talking. “My chest is bleeding again, I can’t even heal correctly, and now it looks like I’m drinking alone instead of celebrating a future. Mom, I don’t have a future. Should have known better, Mom. Should never have let anyone have my heart. Much less…him.”
“Mackai, you put that bottle down. I don’t want you drinking, and if you’re bleeding you need someone to take a look at you.” Jethro had mentioned Shannon to her in their talks during the holiday weekend, but she didn’t think it was a serious relationship, or more that it wasn’t a romantic relationship. He talked about her as more like a sister than a girlfriend.
“For the last two months, I’ve needed that, Mom. But guys like us don’t ask for help. Stay strong, stay tough, don’t worry anyone. Don’t be upset. Don’t be scared, don’t worry that you have a huge hole in your chest that doesn’t stop bleeding. Don’t worry that you can’t breathe. You’re one of the lucky ones. He has been the only thing beside you and Dad keeping me together and now I find out he’s engaged.”
“Are you sure that’s what it is? You said she was planning a wedding, but you didn’t say what Jethro was saying. Could it be that he just doesn’t want to hurt her? I understand by him not saying that you were together did hurt you, but some times a person has to do something they don’t like, to not hurt someone weaker. I’m not saying its right, but you need to give the boy a chance to explain. Did you do that? Or did you do what you’d do when you were younger, run away? I can’t count the number of times I’d come into your room to talk to you and find a note on your pillow saying you were leaving.”
“Positive. They’re talking about wedding dates. Valentine’s Day. She asked, he said okay. Couldn’t be much clearer.” Mac took a shuddering breath and a long gulp of vodka and crumpled the letter, the other thing that had destroyed his life.
“Shannon has to be protected, Mom. Don’t you understand. Shannon has to be protected, she’s barely seventeen years old, she’s his sexual partner, he’s protecting her. He took her from her hometown when she was fifteen or sixteen and is supporting her. You connect the dots and tell me what you come up with. After two weeks of him telling me we’re going to make this work, the two of us, together. Semper Fi. It was all a lie. He had that girl, that child, waiting.”
His wife’s face was getting more and more pale, and Keith held her close. “Relationship problems?”
Emily nodded, not wanting to alert her son that his father was as concerned as she was.
Keith stroked her back, letting her know he was there for her.
“I left. He got a note. Sorry I’m such a disappointment, Mom, and apparently not only to you. But there’s only so much I can take. The Corps are going to kick me out. All I ever wanted to do was serve, and they’re not going to take a guy back with a tennis-ball-sized hole in his chest. I needed a reason to live. I channeled all of that into him and the Corps. It was stupid and naïve and don’t you dare judge me for drinking it all away. Right now just be glad I haven’t smashed the bottle and gone for physical pain instead. Because Mom, I’m so tempted.”
He gulped more alcohol down. “So there you have your great son, the one you want to be so proud of. Do yourself a favor, Mom, and cut your losses. I’m not the kid who went to Annapolis, I’m not the kid who graduated or went overseas. He’s dead. He died that morning. Good riddance. He was a stupid kid anyway. You know who you have? You have the kid who let one of his friends get beaten to death right in front of him, because he was too much a coward to pull the trigger. Maybe someday you’ll want to know about the real Mac Taylor. Maybe someday you and Dad will want to see what a real disappointment I am.” He looked at the bottle hard, considering ending it for a moment.
"You have never been a disappointment to me, Mackai. If I have to drive down there myself and pick you up from whereever it is you're licking your wounds, I will. If there is a girl involved, we will deal with it. But your father and I are so proud of you, whatever happens. You could come back here and go back to school and we wouldn’t be any less proud than if you get your medical clearance. I know the real Mac Taylor, have known him longer than you have for that matter. The Mac Taylor I know picked dandelions for his mother, raked leaves when his father didn’t have the energy after working all day and taking classes at night. You’re the boy who wanted to become a Marine because you would visit with the elderly next door neighbor who talked about the time he spent fighting in World War I. That is who Mac Taylor is, not this man who drinks away his problems and doesn’t fight for what he believes in.”
“He’s dead, Mom. He’s dead, okay? He should have fucking died that day, Mom. Then there would have been a moment of honor instead of being a loser who can’t even heal. Who doesn’t know how to be alone. Who is a coward to his core.Who is going to drink ‘til he passes out to forget. All of it. Forget holding my guys’ organs. Me, the leader, watching them die. I have no honor, Mom. I was just the one left behind while the guys I was trained to lead died around me. I was the one who ducked and dodged and ran like a fucking coward. I should have stood there. You…you can’t understand. Can’t…”
Mac was crying too hard to continue talking,
“Come home, son, come home and let us help you heal.” Emily could feel her boy slipping away from her. She had almost lost him to a suicide bomber, she wasn’t going to lose him to his own hand. “If you don’t come home, I’m coming to you. I won’t lose you and you know that your father and I will do whatever it takes to make this better again.”
Keith released his wife and changed out of his suit, packing a bag for both of them. They would be there for their boy.
“No. I don’t have a home. I can’t look either of you in the eye. If I’m with anyone I need to be with someone who understands. I can’t do this to you or Dad. Or me.” He let out a brittle laugh.
“Mom, I have to go. I can’t hurt you guys any more. I love you, but I need to do this. When I’m back together, I’ll come home.” If….if he ever put himself back together. “I’ll get news to Gibbs, even though I don’t want to deal with him. Don’t worry, okay? Don’t toss that burden my way too. Please… God, Mom, please…”
Keith leaned in, sharing the phone, heartbroken at his son’s pained sounds. “Mackai, we love you and we are coming for you, son. You are not running this time. I don’t know what you’re saying to your mom, beautiful boy, but there isn’t a thing you could say or do that would change how much we love you. Don’t argue. Mom and Dad are coming to Virginia. We will look in every nook and cranny in Virginia for you and we will never give up.”
Keith motioned his wife to the phone. “Make sure he doesn’t do anything silly. Be ready in five minutes.” He hurried next door, begging to use Tom’s phone. They had to get to Mac soon.
“Tell me where you are, Mac. Don’t make us come looking for you. We’ll be there as soon as we can. But please don’t make us search. I couldn’t stand to find you hurt so badly, unable to help you.”
He read off the name of the place, completely giving up. He was too damn tired to fight. He buried his head in a hand. “I can’t take it any more, Mom.” He sniffled one last time. “They discharged me, Mom. Effective tomorrow. No Jethro, no marines. Just blood and pain.”
"We'll be there as soon as we can, sweetheart. Don't do anything rash, understand me? I know you're hurting, but we're coming to take care of you. Your dad's going to get us a flight out, and it will only be a couple hours. I want you to put down what ever it is you're drinking and lay down. Get some sleep, and we'll be there when you wake up."
“For you, Mom. Only ‘cause I don’t want to hurt you.”
But Mac didn’t know if he’d stay or go, live or die. He’d never been so close to the edge before.