Ch. 4

Gibbs had heard his daughter's whispered words and smiled. That smile slowly receded as he descended the stairs to converse with his in-laws. He felt he had Mac on his side, but convincing Joann that the threat was gone may not be any easy sell.

They were sitting in the living room in mid-conversation when he arrived.

"Joann hear what he as to say," he overheard Mac pleading.

Before she could respond she saw her son-in-law enter appearing more relaxed than he had since his return from Kuwait. Maybe Mac was right, but she wasn't ready to let her guard down.

Gibbs saw her assessing him and tried to maintain a relaxed disposition. He sat in a chair across from the couple and leaned back before he began to speak.

"It's true. Hernandez is dead. According to Agent Franks the rest of his cartel isn't too keen on making appearances in the states. They'll be too busy tying to convince their connections that their business can still run smoothly."

Joann still wasn't completely sold. "Why can't we take Kelly and go off somewhere?"

Gibbs sighed. "First, NIS will keep a man around to keep watch while they keep in contact with their informant in Mexico for any movements that might be made to come this way. Second, school will be starting soon and I'm sure Kelly would like to be with her friends. And third, I want to make her life as normal as possible."

"Normal," Joann snorted. "What be possibly be normal after what she's been through?"

"I agree the past months have been far from ideal, but if she can go back to school, be with her friends and stay in her own home, I think it will go a long way to helping her feel normal."

"It won't matter. Without her mother it'll all be different."

"Now, Joann," Mac tried to intervene. He did agree with Gibbs' line of thinking. His wife turned a glare his way, but he stood his ground. "Kelly will do better having the familiar around her. If we took her off and tried to hide her away, all she would do is mope and worry if her life would ever be the same again."

"That may be the case," Joann wasn't quite ready to rescind her argument, "but…"

"No buts, Joann," Mac interrupted. "Do you honestly think that Jethro would be willing to leave his daughter if there was a chance that harm would come to her?"

Joann pouted, not happy that her husband made a valid point. Shrugging she stood and began to walk toward the stairs. "I guess you both think you know what's best. I'll go along with it for Kelly's sake, unless I see she needs a change."

Gibbs stood and quickly made his way to stop her on the bottom step, "You will do NOTHING without my consent!"

Hard thing to get if you're out in the desert somewhere," she sneered.

Before Gibbs could reply Mac had joined them. 'I give you my word Jethro," he glanced at his wife to silence her, "Kelly will be here when you return. The only way would move her is with the direction of Agent Franks."

Gibbs gave Joann one last glare and gave Mac a grateful nod. He stepped around Joann and went up to his room. He wanted his last day with Kelly to be a relaxed one, so he hoped that Mac was able to bring Joann around by the morning.

Gibbs woke early needing to take a run to clear his mind from the dreams that plagued him. Normally dreaming of Shannon soothed him, but now he woke filled an emptiness he doubted would ever be filled.

He had to refocus and prioritize his life. He hoped that the next few months would give him time to accept she was gone, so when he returned he'd be able to start a new life with Kelly, as a single parent.

As he ran he was not unaware of the car that followed him, nor the one that had remained a few doors down from the house. He wondered how long they would be there watching over his family. It would be nice if it was until he returned. Having another set of eyes to keep Joann from running off would be a good thing.

Needing to empty his mind he picked up the tempo and run full out until he came back around to the other end of his street. He slowed to cool down on the final leg of his run.

When he entered the house it was still quiet as the sun was just beginning to make an appearance on the horizon. He started the coffeemaker before going to take a shower. He paused at Kelly's door wanting to check that she was indeed still safe in her bed.

As he opened the door he was surprised to see her bed empty and his heart clenched in a moment of panic. He quickly made his way to his room and breathed a sigh of relief seeing her snuggled up with her mother's pillow.

Not wanting to disturb her he gathered his things and quietly went to the bathroom. He wondered, not for the first time, if he should find a professional for Kelly to talk to. He wasn't a big believer in all the 'psycho-babble' himself, but it couldn't hurt if she had someone to turn to, especially while he was gone. Someone, unlike her grandmother, who would be unbiased about her feelings or the thoughts she had about what happened to her mother and the accident that she had survived. Not to mention all the events that preceded it.

He wasn't sure how to find such a person, but was going to look into it before he left. Even if it meant entrusting his in-laws with setting up appointments and taking Kelly to them until he returned. It might even make them see how serious he was about taking care of their granddaughter, his daughter.

After he was dressed he went to pour himself a cup of coffee wanting to prepare for whatever the day might bring. As he sat down at the table with the newspaper, Mac appeared and smiled thankful for the ready made beverage.

He didn't drink his as strong as the younger man, so tempered it with a splash of milk. He gave a silent toast to Gibbs as he sat and reached for a section of the paper resting on the table.

Joann was next to arrive and frowned at the two men. "You're stomachs will rot if you don't eat some food with that" she chided. Mac and Gibbs hid their grins behind their cups knowing she was only half joking.

Not any less serious she turned to her son-in-low. 'It isn't healthy for Kelly to sleep in your bed every night." She'd noticed since his return that Kelly was seeking him out in the middle of the night.

Not wanting to start his last day with an argument he simply stated, "She wasn't there when I got up this morning."

"Still," she huffed and went back to her task of making pancakes.

Gibbs eased the tension in his neck and let it go. Having the classified in his section of the paper her perused the ads for psychologists hoping to get a name or two to talk to or at least ask for references about.

He set the paper back on the table as Kelly entered the kitchen. She pauses seeing her father and stood starting at him for a moment.

"I thought you left me," she said sadly.

"Aw, Come here Kels" he held open his arms. "I'd never leave without saying good-bye," he pulled her on his lap and held her close.

"But you weren't home," she cried softly.

"I only went for a run. I didn't think you'd get up so early," he tickled her lightly hoping to cheer her up.

"That's alright then," she pushed his hand away playfully tears forgotten. She then pulled his arm around her to assure herself in his embrace.

After a few moments she pulled away and left his lap to help with the pancakes. She got the butter and syrup from the refrigerator and set them on the table.

Her grandmother gave her a smile thanking her for her assistance. It was in the smallest things that she would often see images of Shannon reflected in Kelly and she'd have to stop herself from thinking too long about it. Being strong for Kelly was her goal.

While they ate they discussed the different things they wanted to do. Kelly wanted to go to the beach. Her grandparents had decided to spend a day shopping. Gibbs agreed to take Kelly to the beach and then had a surprise for her.

As Kelly and her grandparents cleaned up the breakfast dishes, Gibbs made some calls. He talked with the base psychologist who agreed to have a talk with Kelly and would assess her. He didn't often deal with children, but if he felt she was in need he would see her until Gibbs returned and they could decide on someone else if necessary.

Gibbs thanked him and set up an initial appointment writing it down to give to Joann and Mac. He was certain they would want to help Kelly by taking her. When he explained it to them as they were getting into their car to leave, they assured him they would look out for her and had no problem with taking her whenever she would need to be there.

Gibbs drove Kelly to their favorite spot on the beach which had some rocks they could climb on to sit above the water. The waves would crash into the rocks and spray a mist of water over them. They sat in silence for a short time each looking out over the expanse of water.

It was Kelly who spoke first. "I wish you didn't have to leave so soon."

"I know," he said softly using a finger to pull her hair behind her ear. "It won't be for too long though, and then I'll be home."

"For good?" she looked up to him pleading.

He nodded. "For good. That's not to say I might have to leave for a job some time. Guess that depends on what job I get," he smiled.

"I think you should just get a job that keeps you here," Kelly pouted.

"We'll see." He pulled her onto his outstretched legs and held her against his chest.

"Is it time for my surprise yet?" she looked back over her shoulder smiling.

He looked up at the sky thinking, "Now's good a time as any." He lifted her onto her feet and rolled off the rock. He then put his arms up to help her down flying her back to her feet. "Let's go."

They raced back to the car. Gibbs letting her win by a touch as they both laughed.

As they drove, Kelly looked around trying to guess where they were headed, but nothing gave her a clue. "Are we there yet?" she asked.

"Not quite," Gibbs smiled at her in the rearview mirror.

They drove for another fifteen minutes before he pulled into a parking lot. Kelly smiled seeing that he had taken her to the zoo.

It had been a long time since she had been there with her dad. Her mom often took her knowing how much she loved the animals. A small part of her was sad, missing her mom, but she couldn't help the excitement over seeing her favorite animals.

Father and daughter walked among the exhibits talking about the different animals. Gibbs knew it was a place that Kelly would always associate with Shannon and hoped that it would be a place full of happy memories they could share. With her guard down Kelly did share a few of the memories of her mom.

When they stopped to share some popcorn, Gibbs decided to talk to her about her upcoming appointment. Kelly seemed reluctant, but her father thought it would be good for her, so she agreed to go and talk with the doctor.

Relieved that she was willing to give it a try, Gibbs took her hand and continued on their journey through the zoo.

Tired they eventually called it a day. They picked up a pizza to take home with some ice cream for dessert. There was a lot of talk while they ate. Joann and Mac shared some of the things they bought for Kelly while she told them about some of the funny things they saw the animals doing.

Neither Gibbs nor Kelly was looking forward to saying good-night, knowing it would be months before they got to do it again. So he sat in her bed reading her a story, stroking her hair and wishing time could stand still for them. When at last she was asleep, he laid her down and tucked her in.

"Good night my angel. I'll be home soon," he whispered in her ear before kissing her head. He took one last long look before he turned off the light and closed her door.