Eight drabbles, all unbeta'd, all exactly 100 words. Lyrics and title are from Missy Higgins' Where I Stood, which is an absolutely gorgeous song that everyone should go listen to right now.
Someday, he thinks, when he looks back at it all, he'll know what went wrong. When he has some distance, when he can see patterns (there must be some) in all the heartbreak and chaos – then he'll know. It must be something horrific, whatever he did, if it can break everyone around him so utterly to pieces. One day.
That day is not today. It probably won't be tomorrow, either.
This is a story about losing things. For all values of "things" meaning "people."
It's not over. It's Gibbs' life, after all. We're not exactly talking about a happy ending.
It starts as an all-American coming-of-age story.
He grows up, falls in love. Marries. Has a daughter and falls in love all over again. If it starts good and ends good, they say, it's romance. What they don't say is that stories don't end. And when you think you know how they do, you're wrong.
He wakes from dreams of blood, desert dust stained rust, to a nightmare he follows into the tropics. He ends another story and the world is stained red.
But he's far away when it ends for them, and for this he will never forgive himself.
Blank page. Between sequels.
He starts over. New job, new life. Gets married, gets divorced. Wash, rinse, repeat. He starts over again, and over again, all over again.
He builds things, fragile things, with his hands in the nights, and spends the days tearing them down.
He means to move on, start again (and again and again), but moves up instead. Faces pass by. There's quick turnaround on Gibbs' teams. Nobody lingers.
Until there's a goofball kid with eyes that say he's been torn down one too many times. Gibbs finds he remembers how to smile, and starts to build.
There's DiNozzo, because it always starts with him. Then Kate, and McGee, and Gibbs remembers what it's like. Having a family.
Then there's DiNozzo, because it always starts with him.
Tony's alive (and then he almost isn't), and Gibbs should remember that Tony doesn't do things halfway. Halfway isn't good enough.
Kate dies halfway to the skies already, on a rooftop in gentle sunlit spring, at the bloody hands of a terrifying stranger. Then nothing is good enough anymore. And Gibbs remembers what it's like. Not having a family.
If it starts good and ends bad, they say, it's tragedy.
They say that if it starts bad and ends good, it's comedy, and somehow Gibbs learns that it's true.
Because it starts with a hole the size of a grapefruit in the back of Kate's head, with a woman who has been baked by the pressure around her until she's hardened on the outside, a prayer in a language he can't understand, a basement where a terrifying stranger is someone's family. And it ends with a new family, a repaired family, jokes and teasing.
It ends with hope, and it ends with laughter, and really, that's good enough for Gibbs.
He realizes later that he should have figured it out when the shadows in Tony's eyes started deepening. But a lot of things happened while he was in Mexico (on the sand in the tropics), and he thought this was one of them. Until Tony is too broken to fix.
He knows they would all say that this isn't his fault, and he knows that it isn't. Except for how, in every way, it is.
Because sitting on a beach in Mexico, he thought about losing things.
He never thought that being there meant that someone else would have to.
Jenny dies in the desert, and she dies alone. Hidden from the sky.
The sun burns, but Gibbs can only think of Europe in the rain. He shivers on the sand. Dust stained rust.
But his isn't the only broken pain, because Ziva believes in fate but Tony, for all his jokes, only believes in responsibility. When he believes at all.
Then his team really is broken, and Gibbs remembers Jenny's house burning and sees the story of his losses written against a dark and hidden sky.
Jenny dies alone, he thinks, but she's not the only one who is.
What wakes him in the night is that he doesn't know who's next.
What keeps him awake is wondering whether it'd be easier if he did.
He leaves Ziva in the desert, where the sand is unstained. The desert, where he always loses things.
If it starts bad and ends bad, they say, it's satire. It's not funny, though. It's pretty much everything but.
He goes home and thinks about how funny it isn't that he's always finding things just to lose them. And he tries to remember how to laugh, because he can't seem to forget how to cry.