One Minute

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Not betaed. Submitted with three minutes to spare! :-) I wasn't about to miss a challenge. Also, for obvious reasons I was unable to take the time on this that I would have liked. Hopefully it doesn't feel shallow as a result.

Halloween found Gibbs behind the wheel of a non-descript gray sedan, sipping a coffee that was already going cold and watching a warehouse that hadn't seen movement in three days. He'd let the rest of the team go for the night, though all of them had strict orders to keep their cell phones on them at all times. Tony had argued, of course. He knew Gibbs well enough to know that giving the rest of them the night off didn't mean he'd be taking it, too. But Gibbs had been obstinate and eventually Tony had given up.

So he was alone in the car, sipping his coffee and steadfastly ignoring the cold. Despite gloves and sweatshirt and jacket liner and jacket, it seemed to be sinking in through his skin, reaching down to his bones until he felt frozen clear through. The coffee hardly seemed to help, his body leeching away its meagre heat even nefore it hit his stomach. He finished the cup anyway and replaced it in the cup holder. Glancing at his watch, Gibbs was just in time to see all three hands line up at the twelve.

Warmth bloomed through the car so suddenly that Gibbs's fingers ached at the difference. Gibbs turned toward the source of the heat and found a very familiar woman occupying the passenger seat. She sat there and smiled at him faintly, her hair as brilliant red as it had ever been, wearing a green shirt, a pair of blue jeans and hiking boots, all glowing with color as if lit from the inside despite being faintly translucent.

Gibbs stared at her for a long time. "You're going to give me away to the bad guys," he said at last, waving a hand at the light she was giving off.

"You're the only one who can see me, Jethro," she said, showing no apparent resentment at the greeting.

"How can you know for sure?"

"I think I know what I'm doing," she said dryly.

"Have you ever done this before?" Gibbs asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No." She arched an eyebrow right back at him. "But I had the best possible teachers."

"Instruction is no substitute for experience."

"Trying to get me to come back again already?"

"No." Gibbs started to reach for his coffee before remembering he'd finished it. He let his hand drop. "Why are you here, Shannon?"

Her smile faded. "You need me now."

Gibbs's expression went diamond hard. "I've needed you worse than I do now a lot sooner than now and you never showed up then."

Shannon's expression was compassionate, but firm, as she shook her head. "No, Jethro. You've missed me and you've wanted me, but you didn't need me. You came through it on your own."

Gibbs snorted derisively and looked away. "Nothing's changed."

"Yes, it has," Shannon insisted softly. "If you keep going the way you have been, Kelly and I are in danger of losing you forever."

"You're in danger of losing me?" Gibbs snapped. "Have you forgotten who in this car is still breathing?"

"No, I'm thinking beyond a single lifetime," Shannon shot back.

"I killed the man who murdered you and Kelly, I did it while in full possession of my faculties and I don't regret it in the slightest," Gibbs said coldly. "If I'm damned, I've been damned for years."

Shannon sighed and ran a hand through her hair, pausing partway through to ruffle the strands randomly. The old, familiar gesture sent a painfully sharp pang through Gibbs's chest. "Your life isn't going to be judged by a single mistake. You're a good man, Jethro. Up until a year ago, I never doubted you'd join Kelly and I one day. But over the past year..." She trailed off and turned an almost fearful look on Gibbs. "I watch you, Jethro, and I don't like the man I see you becoming."

Gibbs clenched his jaw and looked away, fighting down the protective instincts her fear raised in him. "I haven't been the same man you married for years."

"I know you've changed," Shannon said impatiently. "Didn't I say I'd been watching? I've seen you grow harder, more unforgiving, less playful, and I've hated it, but you still had the same heart. There were always people who could reach that part of you. This change is different. There's a...a darkness growing in you now, Jethro, and I can't stand to think that it's because of me."

"I've only been doing what I felt was right," Gibbs said, but he couldn't meet her eyes.

"What you felt was right," Shannon agreed. "Without input from anyone else. You're just a man, Jethro. You need guidance and second opinions as much as anyone else. You used to know the importance of rules, even when they seemed arbitary or unfair. These days you're breaking rules you used to risk your life to defend."

"It's too late, Shannon," Gibbs said, staring out the car window at the dark, empty warehouse.

"If it was too late, I wouldn't be here." She reached out and for a moment Gibbs couldn't breathe, wondering what would happen when she touched him. Her hand cupped his cheek and warmth spread out from the touch of her fingers, washing through him and banishing the seeping cold. "You have friends who want to help," Shannon said quietly. "Please, let them."

Gibbs closed his eyes, leaning into the touch of her hand, longing making his heart clench. "Can't you--"

"This is a one time only visit," Shannon said regretfully. Then she smiled. "I had to kick some ass to get this far."

Gibbs opened his eyes and laughed a little. "They ought to know better than to mess with a Marine's wife."

"Damn right," she said. Her expression turned serious again. "Promise me, Jethro. I want to see you again."

"I can't make promises," Gibbs said quietly. "I can only try."

Shannon smiled, a faint air of sadness to it. "Honesty is a good start," she said. "Good bye, Jethro."

"Wait--" Gibbs started, but she'd already faded, taking the warmth of her touch with her. "Tell Kelly I love her," he said softly anyway. She had said she'd been watching.

He checked his watch and was somehow unsurprised to find it just ticking off the first minute after midnight, though the conversation had certainly lasted longer. Leaning back against the head rest, Gibbs looked out at the warehouse and sighed. No one was going to show tonight. He knew that, or he wouldn't have sent the rest of the team home. He knew he ought to go himself, but where was there to go? Home to the boat?

A flicker of movement in the corner of his eye warned Gibbs a moment before the passenger door opened and Tony slid into the seat Shannon had occupied only a minute before. He took the empty coffee cup out of the cup holder and replaced it with a fresh one before transferring a second cup into his left hand and using the right to swing the car door closed again. "Hey, boss," he said, sipping at his own coffee. "Any activity."

Gibbs just looked at him, concealing a mild sense of bemusement. "What are you doing here, DiNozzo?"

Tony turned and blinked at him innocently. "Potentially saving lives by keeping you supplied with coffee?" he said lightly, but there was a tension in his shoulders.

Gibbs snorted and shook his head. He opened his mouth to tell Tony to go home, but... You have friends who want to help. Please, let them. He took a long, slow sip from the cup Tony had brought. Warmth spread through him. "That mean you brought more than one cup?"

Tony relaxed visibly. "No, but now one of us can go for more later without leaving the target unwatched."

Not that it really mattered if it went unwatched, but Gibbs wasn't about to admit that now. "And by 'one of us,' you mean you."

"Well, yeah," Tony said, grinning.

Gibbs smiled into his coffee cup.