Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS (more's the pity). I don't own Jethro or Jenny either, which is an even greater pity.
A/N: Spoilers for Season 4 episode 'Skeletons'. I don't know what it is about this episode, it just inspires me whenever I watch it. I am always re-watching the fourth season to try and make myself feel better at the moment and that little piece of dialogue between Jethro and Hollis (usually I hate the woman, but this got my attention) when he said he recognised her perfume and she said she wasn't wearing any… He just had that little smile that always seems to mean he's talking about Jen. It occurred to me then she'd been drinking bourbon with Jen and we all know he wasn't happy leaving those two in a room alone. I just had to write it when the idea formed. Last line is taken form the Thomas Crown Affair, because I love that movie and it just suits Jibbs so well. So here goes! Explains what scent it really was he smelt that day.
Summary: He said he recognised her perfume. Hollis said she wasn't wearing perfume. So what was it Jethro recognised that day? And what did it lead to? Jibbs.
A Jibbs Story
He recognised the bourbon. Somehow he detected the faint scent of it still clinging to Hollis Mann – but aside from the drink, it wasn't her he was smelling. Only the scent, this one mix of flavours, was enough to catapult his mind into memories. Memories he should not be reliving while around Hollis. These were images and feelings he had thought he'd buried since returning to NCIS. The Eiffel Tower swam across his mind's eye, then the scent returned as a face framed by red hair clouded his thoughts, a seductive gleam constantly in her eye that caused an almost forgotten twist in his stomach.
Bourbon had always been a weakness for him, and when combined with this particular woman, it had proved a temptation too great to resist. He'd thought those feelings, or stirrings as he preferred to refer to them as, were successfully repressed but that scent of bourbon… it had snuck behind his defences and called up wonderful times, all of them with her, drinking and making love because that's what they felt like doing. He had to mask the glaze in his eyes and the smile that would have given too much away as he headed past her towards the interview room. Colonel Mann was nothing if not observant.
After the case had wound to it's somewhat gory conclusion and Hollis had returned to CID to write up her report, when Jethro had a moment to himself in the usual place he went to when he needed space, he used the time to try and push back what the 'perfume' had called up. They had separated, she had left him, and he was sort of seeing someone else; those memories should not hold any value any more. But they did. And he silently cursed the woman who had invaded his thoughts because of that one chance moment when he had smelt her scent again. It should not have been her he pictured undressed and positively writhing with pleasure underneath him when he walked past Hollis, no, it should have been Hollis. But it wasn't.
"Damn it Jen." He hissed from between his teeth and smacked at the familiar steel wall of the elevator, finally admitting to himself what should have always been so obvious. He would never be rid of his feelings for the woman who was now his boss. And while being with Hollis made him happy, it could not be compared to his relationship with Jen. His mouth twisted into an angry line and he smacked the elevator wall again, wanting to curse her for making him want her so but also feeling guilty that he could not control himself. He wanted to be with Hollis but he – he loved Jenny. Finally the fact crashed down around him and he wiped his hands across his face, disturbed and angry with himself and her.
What was he to do? He could not be with Hollis if he knew what he knew; it wasn't fair to her. But did he have to condemn himself to being alone because he'd foolishly broken one of his own rules? Suddenly the image of Jen's unspoken possessiveness of him and her severe dislike of Colonel Mann flashed before him and he began to wonder if maybe he wasn't the only one with feelings that remained hidden deep down. It wasn't just the stares and cold looks shared between the two women that made him think though. She'd been strange lately, he knew she was hiding something, and striving not to show how it was draining her. And it wasn't her animosity towards his sometime girlfriend. Like a glass holding liquid. You knew the glass was strong, but brittle, and if you applied just enough pressure it would break and spill whatever it was holding back for everyone to see. In this case, Jen's emotions, ones she took such great pains to conceal. Although he knew that this might not be a good thing for her job, he was sure it was the only course that would save what was left of them. Last time, the choice between her job and them had been taken out of his hands, he wasn't about to loose the chance again.
Punching the button for the floor of Jen's office, he flicked the elevator back on and let it carry him up towards the confrontation it seemed they had been heading for since his return. It wasn't long before the doors slid back and he was striding along the catwalk towards her office. Already he was considering various ways to start this conversation and finish it, as he had no doubt Jen would fight him every step of the way. He went through the door bearing her name and found an empty desk where Cynthia should have been sitting. Well, that should make things easier, as long as it didn't mean Jenny wasn't in her office. He strode quickly over to her door and opened it a little more gently than he usually did. It fact the door made almost no noise as he pushed the handle down and let it swing open about a foot of it's own accord.
She was there, fingers dug into the spiky pixie cut as her eyes sped across the report laying on her desk. There was a bulbous glass within reach of her hand that he judged had held a good measure of bourbon by the smell of it pervading the room, but it was almost all gone now. He shook himself mentally as once again his mind's eye was invaded by a certain face and body, a spark running up his spine as nights they'd shared flashed through him, reminding him just what he'd let go. He was going to have to concentrate if he wanted to get her boundaries down and images like that did not help, so he forced his mind back to observing her. Her face was lowered and she had the air of someone who was feeling quite miserable. For a moment, he let his self-esteem be stoked up by the thought that perhaps Hollis and himself had been the cause for that misery, but only a moment. He firmly cemented the opinion she was definitely not feeling great when he watched her eyes close and a shudder pass through her entire body. If he hadn't known better, he would have said that was either a suppressed sob or a shiver because she was cold. But there was nothing wrong with her heating; there was quite a warm feeling to the room. So it wasn't a shiver. But it was obviously something she didn't want anyone else watching.
"Jen?" He ventured quietly, opening the door wider and stepping into the room. He didn't miss the way her posture snapped to attention, her back going ramrod straight and the misery he'd so easily picked up on before was wiped away, or rather was neatly covered before he could stop it. She met his eyes reproachfully and slid her arms in front of her as she leant back a little into her tall, leather chair, not folding them, that would have been too hostile, but she placed them very carefully in a protective barrier. Apparently, she'd already guessed why he was here, or maybe she had just become naturally defensive around him.
"Jethro. I know the concept of knocking is alien to you, but I do wish you would try." Jenny said calmly, using a tone he imagined she would use with a stubborn and silly two-year old. He didn't answer, just raised his eyes heavenward while she could see him and then turned to shut the door. He sensed rather than saw her half-smile and the movement as she slid her glasses delicately from her nose, taking pride in keeping her composure and getting one over on her ex-partner. However, he knew that moment of amusement vanished as soon as she heard him lock the door. He took a slightly deeper breath than usual and swung back round to face her. She'd stood and was now frowning at him; he could practically see the sky-high walls shooting up to protect her with icy precision.
"Got a question for you." He said easily, ignoring the way her eyes were lingering suspiciously on her now locked doors. She stayed behind her desk, another barrier, and moved a few files into different trays to avoid meeting his eyes. She did spare him a momentary glance as she replied,
"Why is DiNozzo having so much time off?" He kept his tone even, not angry or pushing, just probing perhaps. Did this count as fishing? Would she pick up on it? There was barely a flicker of her expression before she replied easily,
"You'll have to ask DiNozzo that."
"I'm asking you."
"Well I don't know."
"You're lying." Her tell gave her away but she didn't know that. Instead, she arched her eyebrow over the treacherous eye and he watched calmly as she came around the desk. He didn't know whether to take it as a good sign, that she'd given up hiding behind that particular barricade, or a warning as he waited for the inevitable trip he was sure she'd make to get more bourbon.
"Why do you care?" His lack of response was enough to tell her she'd hit a nerve and he realised that. So he let her work it out. She scanned his face and then turned away, as if not wanting to see what he would show her, the hurt at being kept in the dark and anger that she'd made DiNozzo keep this from him, swiping her glass from the desk and going over to her drinks cabinet to pour another good measure of bourbon into her glass. Just as he'd predicted. It was definitely not a good thing that she'd become that dependant on it. Though sometimes he wondered if it was the liquid or the effect she was addicted to. She flicked a look up at him, asking if he wanted some, but bourbon had already been his undoing once today so he shook his head. If she was surprised, she said nothing, just drank deeply from her own glass. The slight edge of desperation to the way she swallowed finally made him speak.
"Haven't you had enough?"
"Don't pretend you're worried Jethro. It doesn't suit you." Her words were intended to be light but he heard an accusation. Maybe she was right. He hadn't paid the attention he should have to the rumours that she was spiralling out of control, until recently. But he had never pretended not to care about her otherwise he wouldn't be here right now. And they definitely wouldn't have had that argument about his margarita safari either. He still couldn't help the smirk in his mind when he thought about that moment as she pushed him against the window. But he pushed it away and focussed on her words.
"Since when do I pretend?" He snapped and she paused, midway to lifting the glass to her lips again.
"What do you want Jethro?" She questioned, looking down into her glass and her voice quiet, soft almost. He was once again faced with the fact that perhaps her protections was not functioning quite as well tonight as they usually did. But instead of making him feel guilty, he saw it as an advantage. One he was going to use because he was convinced that they both needed to be honest with each other.
"For you to tell me what's going on." He replied, making sure his tone gave no hint of why he was actually doing this.
"There's nothing 'going on' Jethro." She answered calmly enough though there was a warning edge there.
"You're lying again." This time he knew he'd put a little pressure on; she had to lower her head to stop whatever she had been about to say. Her temper, always an amazing thing to behold, was the key to breaking her shell.
"Jethro, go home. I don't have anything to tell you."
"I don't doubt that."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You've shut me out as much as you possibly could since I got back." He exclaimed exasperatedly and she narrowed her eyes at him dangerously.
"You don't need to know everything Jethro." Her voice was getting sharper with every answer she gave and he kept back another satisfied smirk as she avoided his eye and moved back to where she felt safe: behind her desk. It was the symbol of her control and he knew she drew strength from that. That she needed to draw strength was an encouraging sign in itself, at least to him.
"Not everything, just what's happening to my team," He let his voice get louder as well, knowing it was late and there was no one there to hear them.
"There is nothing happening!" She cried out, exasperation winning out over desperation, making her tone wilder as she leant further over her desk. He was also edging forward, holding himself back from getting too close too soon. If she guessed now what he was trying to do, there would be no way for him to escape her wrath.
"You're still lying!" He threw back at her.
"Ugh, Jethro, it has nothing whatsoever to do with you."
"So it's you then? What are you getting DiNozzo into?" He saw the flicker of irritation in her eyes and knew she was mentally kicking herself for that slip.
"I'm not getting him into anything." She denied, folding her arms.
"Because he's already in?" She didn't have an answer for that and silence is much more a confirmation than a denial. "What is he doing?" Jethro asked once more and let his eyes show just how eager he was for her to share this information. He just wanted to look after his team. And he wanted to look after her. Jen took a deep breath and forcibly wrenched her gaze from him, looking down at her desk and evening out her slightly rapid breathing. It was definitely the most encouraging sign he'd received from her yet that she was close to loosing that marvellous control of hers.
"You have no need to know." She answered at last, using her favourite phrase to say 'Get lost' as her eyes regained their icy sheen. He blinked, wondering how she'd recovered what he'd just spent a good ten minutes destroying in a few seconds. "Goodnight Agent Gibbs." There was a finality in her tone that few would have argued with, one that would have made any Director proud and definitely would have made many Agent that Jethro knew scurrying for the door. But of course, Jethro wasn't going anywhere until he'd done what he set out to do, and her saying that damn robotic phrase only made him more determined to get her to loose it. He took the final few steps forward and took up a stance right in front of her, only the desk cause for space between them. It was a favourite trick of his but it didn't work on her, they both knew that, he just loved having an excuse to be that close to her.
"I'm not going anywhere yet Jen." He whispered, glaring into her eyes with the same ferocity she was directing at him. It was this fire that made him think of his next move. "This is personal, isn't it? Otherwise you wouldn't be so dead set on keeping me out. You know I'd figure out something you're keeping from the others in on it." She didn't let that affect her; she'd accepted her choice to keep certain things about this case a secret from everyone who worked it. It preserved their objectivity and hers, most of the time, and made sure no one had any cause to reproof her if she got a little too involved.
"You've always had a problem with boundaries." She snapped back sarcastically, tilting her head a little to one side and her most annoying smirk sliding into place over her lips.
"You set too many." He jibed at her, the conversation taking a more teasing tone as it always did when the topic turned to their former relationship. Which was no doubt her intention, he didn't think she'd twigged what he was up to, but she recognised the signs of her control slipping and was seeking to rein it in.
"So you ignored them all?" She shot back with a smile.
"You don't like letting people in Jen." With that one statement, the tone switched again, and once more he knew he had the upper hand. The previous smile slipped from her and if he was right, there was a brief flash of worry in the emerald orbs he'd been studying. It was her defences under attack now and he was going to keep that going. "We were together for three years and we never knew enough about each other."
"That wasn't just me." She answered with barely a moment's hesitation, knowing if he were going to accuse her of being the bad guy because of keeping things from him, she would not waste the opportunity to call him a hypocrite.
"I wasn't the only one keeping secrets though, was I? And don't wave Rule 4 in my face again." He sniped, his expression showing clearly how much he hated that rule just then.
"Don't throw Rule 1 at me." She flung back, knowing that would have been the next piece of evidence chucked at her, her hands unfolding and sliding to rest on her hips, her legs spreading a little so her weight was more easily balanced. It was an attack position, though perhaps in her case also defensive. Best defence is a good offence after all.
"Why can't you let people in Jen?"
"Could ask you the same thing," she replied, her quick answer making it easy to suppress the worry she felt that he was asking her things like this. She couldn't be ignorant to the implications. It had to mean he was ready to do something about their lack of communication for the past few months. But he had no idea whether she was as well.
"We're talking about you. What took your trust away?" She tried to arrange her expression into a confused one, but she knew he would see the cautious light in her eyes.
"Nothing. I trusted you Jethro, I had to."
"Exactly, didn't choose to. I did trust you voluntarily Jen, I still do."
"Good to know." That had softened her a little though she tried not to let him see that.
"If I can do it, why can't you? Why can't you still trust me enough to talk to me?"
"Jethro, if we hadn't worked together so long, you still wouldn't trust me." Jen pointed out, both of them very aware what she was saying was accurate. But so was the case for her.
"We're talking about you." He repeated. He knew and understood his own faults, he couldn't be so sure about her's. "Just tell me Jenny, what happened to make you so determined not to connect with people?" He pressed, his hands biting into the desk he was leaning on and though he couldn't see them, his knuckles were going white with the pressure.
"Jethro, back off." She told him sternly; also fully aware if this conversation progressed any further, she was going to end up making a break for the door because she knew she wasn't ready to discuss this with him of all people, someone who knew her that well.
"No! Not until you tell me."
"You're going to be waiting a long time." She told him, pulling on a very false looking smile that she hoped would put him off and make him recede from the effort of creating the tension he was putting on her. "There is no deeper issue for you to explore and poke in your usual sensitive manner. Anyone would learn not to trust in this place. Especially when politics becomes involved. Everyone's out to save their own hide." He considered taking a segway then and telling her it was her own fault for getting involved in politics but he knew that was what she wanted him to do.
"Jen, without trust, how can this place run at all? We all have to depend on each other, more so when you take part in the undercover ops we did; that takes trust. Where did yours go?"
"Jethro, please. That's enough." Her voice was slowly loosing the sharp edge that he'd worked so hard to get there, because it showed emotion, but it was replaced by something else: tiredness. That was better; it meant her defences were loosing his battle.
"What are you afraid of?" He kept pushing, "That you'll be let down if you let someone in?"
"Jethro I do trust people-"
"The maybe it's not other people you're afraid of. Maybe it's yourself." Whatever the Director had been going to say got stuck in her throat at those words and it was more than a flicker of fear that shot up her expression and into her eyes. He knew he'd found it. The weak spot. "That's it, isn't it? You're afraid of yourself. That you'll damage them the way you see yourself as damaged. You're afraid that if you let someone in, and they realise once they get there that you're not worth it, then you'll never recover. You're terrified that you're not as good as the façade you put up." He breathed over her, the repetition harsh but necessary. Every time he said the word "afraid" she flinched, in a small way but it was there, and he wondered if she realised she was doing it. He almost couldn't believe that the woman who had never been on a diet in her life was worried about something like this. But he supposed what a person looked like and their character were two very different things.
"Jethro, stop." She whispered, protesting weakly but nonetheless clutching onto her strength with both hands. She would not break down. She would not give in now. He saw the twisted expression on her face and sighed, knowing his next words would decide if she listened to him trying to correct her view of herself or not.
"You can't keep people at arm's length forever, Jen. No matter who they are, what kind of relationship you have with them, you have to offer up a bit of yourself as well. Not everything, I'm not asking you to completely reveal yourself, of all people I wouldn't ask that, but you gotta see a lot of people would think you're worth the effort to work you out." She wheeled around then and faced the window, the set line of her creamy jaw a sharp definition against the dark of night sky. He wondered if he's said the wrong thing. Then he heard her voice and almost winced at how cold it was.
"I think it's time you were leaving Agent Gibbs. You've said quite enough." It was as if the very air she was breathing out was ice, the sounds she made were so cold. He was undecided for a moment as to whether he should follow her order this time, but he knew if he left now, them and their relationship would never recover. He'd stripped her more bare than she'd ever been in her life and if he left now, she would be able to patch that permanently, to never let it out again, because leaving always hurt. So he went the opposite way to her door round her desk and stood next to her at the window. The only light on her face was starlight, there was a new moon, so he couldn't be sure, but he thought he saw a gleaming trail left behind from a tear on her cheek. She did not put up a hand to wipe it away, so he wasn't completely sure it was there. But it still at last made him feel a little guilt. His eyes sweeping the city sky line, he gathered the rest of his courage. Then he turned and caught hold of her shoulders, bringing her to face him.
"Jen. Jen, look at me." He smoothed his hands up to cup her chin, raising her face until he could see into her eyes. He knew what he'd said was true, she really did doubt her own worth, hence her workaholic drive to be the best and prove her fears wrong. The thought also crossed his mind that while he'd been here last year, he'd let her prove she was good, he'd given her opportunities to show off her talent. When he'd left, she'd turned her attentions to her own fights in search of something to prove. And it had contaminated her. "Look in my eyes, I need you to believe me. I have been an ass, letting you go through whatever this case is about alone. I care for you, for our past and present's sake, and you have got to realise why. You're amazing to me. You've got drive, ambition, the will to succeed in anything. But you're compassionate and that's why you do this job and won't settle for doing it in a mediocre way. You have to do the best you can. And you do." He watched as shining slivers of tears began to swell on her bottom eyelid and her lips folded together as a sob that was as much exhaustion as sadness was swallowed. Her eyes closed and looked down, as if conjuring up a way to deflect his touching word. "Come on Jen, you gonna doubt me too?" He asked quietly, tilting his head to catch the wandering emerald orbs. His eyes seared into hers, almost painfully honest, and she felt her fears lift if just for a little while.
"Jethro… never do that again." She ordered weakly, not removing her chin from his hand, nor pulling back when he lifted his other fingers and stroked the back of them down her cheek, as if confirming the feelings he'd just confessed to, every light touch of his skin to hers making her shiver with pleasure. She let her eyes drift closed for a few seconds, telling him without words just how much she enjoyed that, and he smiled down at her at last. This was the woman he'd fallen in love with, coming apart under his hands was her Director defences and underneath was the softer, generous, enchanting woman he's always known was under there. The one who had held him, made love to him, kissed him in the early hours just so he knew she wasn't leaving him.
"Jenny…" He breathed over her nose and mouth, making her eyelids flutter and she couldn't help herself. She needed the comfort she knew she could only get from his arms. Her strength was slowly slipping away but she was happy to surrender to him just for a little while. She stepped forward, slipping her arms around his waist, leant against him. He gathered her closer, his arms holding her shoulders close to his chest, laying his cheek against her hair and breathing in the scent that had started all of this. Her scent. Bourbon, apricots and the unique scent that only came from her skin.
"Jethro, I- I'm sorry. So desperately sorry." She gasped, as the tears finally eluded her and trickled down her face, her voice going uneven and breathy.
"For what Jen?" He asked, his very voice taking on a soothing tone, smoothing his cheek against her soft hair and soaking up the moment he'd been so hoping for.
"For not trusting you, for pushing you away, for leaving all those years ago." She whispered painfully, almost hoping he wouldn't hear because it was so unlike her to say and do things like this and she was unused to showing anyone this much emotion, unless it was anger. Then she drew back slowly, and looked up into his aqua pools, tears still swelling in her own. "For not telling you I love you while I had the chance." She said as quiet as possible while still being audible. That set of tears she'd bee gathering spilled from the corners of her eyes, down to gather on her chin. Jethro surprisingly smiled down at her then and wiped away her tears before finding her eyes again.
"That's the great thing about life Jen. You get second chances."
"Well, I'm not going to waste this one." Jenny informed him with that glint in her eye that said more clearly than any words could how determined she was. Before he had a chance to reply, she lifted both hands to cup his face and brought his lips smashing down on top of hers, meeting his every movement with a desperate energy. If he was caught by surprise, he recovered quickly, pulling her close and parting her lips to taste her so thoroughly it no longer felt they had been apart. She was moaning or he was moaning and their limbs were becoming tangled up in each other, caught in a whirlwind of feeling that had always been part of who they were together. Eventually, need for air surfaced in their dizzy minds and they parted, gasping at the surrounding atmosphere that seemed so cold compared to the other's breath. There was a luminous smile on her face, blissful even, and he was more than willing to keep it there, so he bent his head to her neck. He remembered she always loved being nuzzled there, and he butterfly kissed down to the hollow between her shoulder blades until she moaned again.
"You manipulate me like that again, I'll break both your arms."