Conversations on My Boat
Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS—DBP, CBS & Paramount have that luxury. I just borrow the characters for a little while. No copyright infringement is intended.
Authors Note: I have always wondered about Mike's statement to Jenny in the diner during JD, Part I. (For the record, I'm still pissed). Just what did he and Gibbs talk about? My version on what it could have been. "T" rating for language.
"Probie! Get your sorry ass up here and help me run these lines!"
"And bring up some more beer for the cooler while you're at it" Mike Franks blew out a long stream of cigarette smoke. Damn! It was hot out here on the water. Fish were biting good, though.
Gibbs appeared on deck and opened the cooler, putting six more bottles on ice. He stood and surveyed the beautiful blue of the ocean. He hadn't shaved in weeks, he wore whatever he wanted, and drank whenever he wanted. "Retirement" had its benefits.
He'd been in Mexico for two months. After he'd walked out on his team, he couldn't think of where else to go. Mike had offered, and he had ended up staying. Not that he hadn't been earning his keep. Hell, he had spent more time fixing pipes and working on Mike's sorry excuse for a house than relaxing in the sun. He had a feeling that he was going to have to replace the roof next. I never stopped working—just changed job descriptions.
He sat down beside Mike and checked the poles he had left in the water. Nothing yet. Of course, they had already caught enough fish to keep them both fed for three days. Jethro couldn't help but wonder if Mike had some other agenda for keeping them on the water. What did it matter? They had no schedule to keep.
"Gonna tell me about it, Probie?"
"What's been gnawing the inside of your gut for the past two weeks?"
"Could be this excuse for alcohol that you insist on drinking" He looked at the bottle of beer in his hand with disgust. "Damn, Mike. Can't you at least keep some bourbon around?"
"Didn't exactly know that I would be entertaining house guests. Next time, I'll be sure and put a bottle of Jack out along with the frilly hand towels"
Gibbs shot him the look.
"Don't try that with me, Jethro! Just because I'm retired doesn't mean that I lost my touch" He knew the past several weeks had been tough ones on the younger man. His gruff voice softened just a notch. "Found your pictures."
Gibbs swallowed his mouthful of beer. It wasn't as if Mike was snooping. He'd forgotten one night and left the damn things on the bar in the kitchen. No sense in denying it now.
"Nothing to talk about, Mike. That was in the past."
"Are you sure about that?" Mike usually wasn't one to push. He liked his privacy, too. He also knew that some wounds needed to be cut open and cleaned out before they ever had a chance to heal.
"Fine lookin' woman, that Director of yours"
"Not my Director anymore, Mike. I retired, remember?"
"Okay, smart ass! Jenny is a fine lookin' woman. How's that?"
Gibbs grinned. Mike was like a dog with a bone when it came to some things. "Yeah. She is"
"Looked like you two were pretty cozy back in the day. Never should have let females in the field. Nothing but a distraction."
"Jen was a damn good agent, Mike. Still is"
"Didn't say she wasn't. Would have been disappointed if she was, seein' as how you trained her."
"Just like you trained me"
"Don't you go forgettin' that either" he paused long enough to open another beer. He handed it to Jethro and then opened one for himself. He took a long pull from the bottle before he spoke again. "So are ya gonna tell me?"
"Tell you what? That I broke my own damn rule? Hell, more than one of them. Jenny was – God! What do I say? Best thing that happened to me since Shannon died. Thought we had a real chance. Asked her to marry me. She turned me down."
"Didn't have much of a track record to show her, Probie"
Gibbs smirked, "Yeah. I guess you're right on that one. I was trying to forget Shannon with ex # 1 and ex #2"
"And ex # 3? What was she for?"
"Trying to forget Jenny" The honest admission still hurt.
"Some reason you need to do that now?"
"You or her? I know that you can be a pain in the ass. I'm obviously not as well acquainted with her ass as you are. Can't form a fair opinion. Unless, of course, you care to tell me a…"
"Ain't going there, Boss" Jethro checked his poles again and pulled both lines in. He could swap stories as well as the next guy, but he wasn't going to share details about this particular woman.
"We got enough. Just don't feel much like fishin' anymore"
Mike watched as Gibbs carefully stowed his gear. He knew that Jethro was trying to dodge his questions. Man had been dodging most of 'em for months. Not going to let him get off that easy this time.
"You love her?"
The question caught him off guard. Did he love her? Yeah, he did. Still had some lingering doubts if she felt the same way. Sexual tension wasn't love. "Did once. Not so sure if she felt the same"
"Somethin' happen to make you think she didn't? Other than the whole proposal thing, I mean"
"She walked away in Paris. We were making a connecting flight. She left her coat on the first plane. Asked me to get it for her. When I came back, she was gone. Found a 'Dear John' letter in the coat pocket."
"What is it with women and letters?" The older man snorted, and lit another cigarette. Both men were silent for a few minutes. Mike had a point.
"Thought it was best just to let it go"
"Sounds like a loose end to me. What have I told you about them loose ends?"
"Damnit, Mike! She's not a loose end!" He could feel himself getting irritated. Thoughts of Jen tended to do that to him a lot lately.
"Sittin' in the dark lookin' at old pictures doesn't sound like something that's over to me"
Maybe Mike was right. He carried four pictures in his wallet. They were dog eared and a little scratched. One of Shannon and Kelly, another of him with his wife and daughter, smiling into the camera after a day on the beach. The other two were of Jenny. The three women that he could never bring himself to forget.
"Too late now, Boss"
"What in the hell is wrong with you?" Mike's tone was sour. "Too late for what? Shannon's gone, Jethro. Jenny isn't. Doesn't seem too damn complicated to me!"
He pulled out his pole and stowed it next to Jethro's. He stalked to the helm and started the engine.
"Why are you pissed at me, Mike? I told you that she was the one who left—not me!"
"She came back"
"For the job, Mike. Not for me" There won't be any 'off the job', Agent Gibbs. Even after a year, it still stung.
"You ever ask her why not?"
"Not in so many words"
Mike snorted in derision. "Call me a little disappointed."
"How do you figure that?"
"Never pegged you for a coward, Jethro"
Neither man said another word as the boat was turned towards home.
"Headin' out on the boat. You wanna come?"
Jethro looked up and wiped the sweat from his brow. Repairing the deck was taking longer than he thought. Of course, having to cut his own wood was part of problem. No neighborhood lumber yard nearby. He eyed the cooler in Mike's hand.
"Time to take a break anyway. Could use a beer"
The men walked to the docks in comfortable silence. Gibbs had to admit that was one thing he liked about Mike. They could sit for hours and not feel the need to say a word. There were still a few sore subjects he wished Mike would avoid. Knowing him as well as he did, however, they wouldn't go unaddressed for long.
They had barely pulled the boat from the marina when Mike began the discussion he had been hoping to avoid.
"Good letter from Washington?" Mike was trying to keep his tone light.
"Okay. Abby says DiNozzo is drinking real coffee and smacking people on the back of the head"
"Sounds like you trained him well"
"Yep." He didn't add anything else that Abby had written in her letter. About how the team wasn't the same without him. How the Director hardly ever came out of her office anymore. He tried not to think about his team. Or Jenny. Tried not to think about them. Wasn't doing too well on that point.
"Your lady Director askin' you to come back yet?"
"Come on, then. Let's fish"
They had gotten an early start this morning—out on the boat before sunrise. The sun was now up, the ocean was still as blue, but the fish weren't biting as well. Thank God for cold beer. A motor boat passed them about fifty yards off, gunning its engine. The engine backfired, sounding like a gunshot across the water. Instinctively, Jethro reached for his weapon—which was no longer there.
"Took me about six months to stop doing that" Mike remarked. "Still do some target practice. Just to keep from getting' rusty. Not much else to shoot at. Unless you want to go looking for trouble"
"Careful. Might think that you miss it"
"Havin' some punk trying to shoot me full of lead? What do you think, Probie?"
Gibbs smiled. He should have seen that one coming. What he didn't anticipate was Mike's next comment.
"Miss it a little every damn day"
"Wasn't totally honest when I saw you in the hospital. Sure, part of me doesn't want anything to do with the mess the world is in. Goin' to hell in a hand basket if you ask me. I just don't want to know how fast. I miss how things used to be. Before everyone became so 'politically correct" Mike's voice dripped with sarcasm, "Ha! Just a nice way of lying through your teeth to cover your ass. Time was we could shoot and field questions and do paperwork later. Bet now you have to fill a request in triplicate just to use the head."
"Something like that"
"Question is, do you miss it?"
Jethro didn't answer right away. Did he miss it?
"Nice feeling putting the dirt bags away, huh?" Mike smiled, "I miss making them squirm when they know you've got 'em and they can't find a way out. The joy of civilization. Used to miss the ladies, until sweet little Camilla came to the cantina." He winked at Gibbs, "You planning on being nominated for sainthood or something? Louisa asked about you again"
"You monitoring my sex life, Boss?" He glared at Mike over his beer bottle.
"Nah. Man's got needs is all."
Jethro had stopped counting after the tenth shot of tequila. Camilla had taken Mike's hand and led him out of the cantina. Mike sent him a drunken smile that clearly told him not to wait up.
"Are you finished, Señor Gibbs? Can I do anything for you?" He looked into Louisa's soft brown eyes. His eyes took in the low cut of her blouse, the curves that had been teasing him all night. He was old enough to be her father, but at that moment, he didn't really care.
She came around and slid easily into his arms. The cantina held only a few lingering customers at this late hour. Kisses and touches led up the stairs to her room. This was sex on autopilot. Not thinking—just enjoying the sensations. When her touch became more intimate, something clicked in his brain. Shouting louder than the alcohol and his need for release. His blue eyes looked down into her brown ones as he pulled her hand away from his throbbing arousal. He could read her disappointment and confusion. It took all of his resolve to turn away from her and grab his shirt. More than anything, he wanted a woman under him tonight. But one that had red hair, ivory skin, and green eyes that darkened with passion when she was close to pulling him with her over the edge. A very specific woman. Louisa would have been a warm substitute, but it would never be more than that. It didn't seem fair to either of them. Didn't sit right in his gut.
"She must be very especial, Señor" He turned; saw understanding dawn in her eyes. He gave her a small sad smile.
She leaned forward, chastely kissing him on the cheek. "If you ever change your mind, let me know."
He had gone back to the house after that. He finished what was left of Mike's last bottle of tequila, taking the pictures out of his wallet again and laying them out on countertop. His rough fingertip had lingered on Jenny's mouth and the soft curves of her body. He swallowed the remnants of the alcohol and cursed. This time, he made sure to put the incriminating photos back in his wallet and shoved it into his pocket before moving towards his bedroom. Away from old ghosts and memories.
"Louisa's a nice girl" He finally commented on Mike's statement.
"That Director of yours must be one hell of a woman"
Jethro smiled at his mentor, not bothering to correct him about his use of Jen's title.
"You have no idea, Mike" He felt a twinge in his groin. He and Jenny had been matched on many levels. Sex was just one of them. He had never been with a woman who was so sure of herself. Jen was demanding: asking, giving and taking until they both lay panting and satisfied. Shannon had been loving and passionate, but Jen leaned more towards unpredictable and insatiable.
"Not too late, Probie. You still have a chance"
"Maybe you're right, Boss"
"You doubting me, Jethro?"
The rainy season was approaching. Jethro had started cutting boards and nailing them on Mike's current excuse for a roof. Mike may be many things, but a handyman did not make the list. In between cussing him out for making too much racket during his 'siesta hour', Mike came up with home improvement projects on a regular basis.
He heard Mike stir from his hammock, the familiar smell of cigarette smoke drifting up to the roof.
"Hola! Michael" Camilla Charro called. "Hola! Señor Gibbs"
Both men stopped and admired the view as she came around the corner of the house.
"Payday, Probie" He heard rather than saw the smile on Mike's face. Instinct told him that it had more to do with the woman than the arrival of a paycheck. Not for the first time, Jethro felt a bit jealous. He remembered how it made him feel when he barged unannounced into Jen's office and caught her staring through her window at the night sky and the lights of the harbor. That was when she was most vulnerable; before she could hide the look in those green eyes behind the cool mask of 'the Director'. God, he missed that view: the glimpse of the woman that he still couldn't get out of his system.
"A letter for you, too, Señor" Camilla handed Jethro two envelopes. The postmark on both was Washington, D.C.. The familiar loopy handwriting on the second envelope took him by surprise. Climbing down from the roof, he scooped a cold beer out of the cooler and headed down the beach. His host deserved a little privacy. He needed a little privacy himself before opening the unexpected envelope.
He walked about 100 yards before sitting on the beach, digging a sand well to hold his beer.
He opened the envelope. Her scent wafted out towards him as he opened the pale cream linen stationery. Not writing in an official capacity. He thought for a moment if he would need his reading glasses, but quickly found that they wouldn't be necessary. The note was short:
I hope you are well. The team misses you. I'm glad you're with Mike. Things here go by in such a hurry that it seems there is never any time to stop and really talk or listen. The beach sounds like a good place for both.
He read it three times, then placed it carefully back into the envelope. He held it close to his nose, breathing in the scent that was starting to dissipate in the soft wind. The team missed him. She never said she did. She was glad he was gone. No, she was glad he was with someone who would listen to him when/if he ever wanted to talk. He thought again about what had motivated her to write him at all. His memory wasn't 100%, but he had been remembering more and more lately. He'd said 'goodbye' to his team before leaving. He hadn't said goodbye to her. Not in words anyway. He thought back to the night he had left NCIS. The look he had given her before walking out of her office. He did remember that there was a time when they had been able to communicate without words. Had she picked up on that? He opened the note for a fourth time, scanning it again. This time he noticed a small blemish on the lower right hand corner of the page. Almost as if a drop of water had been spilled and wiped away. He closed his eyes and sighed. It was almost too much to hope for, but knowing Jen—the Jenny he had fallen in love with—it hadn't been a drop of water. Hell would freeze over before she would ever admit it, but in his gut he knew it was true. She had wiped away a tear.
Suddenly angry, he crumpled the envelope and the letter and threw it into the surf. What is it with women and their damn letters? What was it indeed?
A good ten minutes had passed before he reached down to pick his bottle out of the sand. He was surprised to find that the missive he had thrown in anger into the ocean had returned to him. The waves had brought it back—gently tapping against his bottle. He picked it up and smoothed it out. The inked address ran and smudged from the salt water, but it was still legible. It could have been a coincidence that what he had thrown away had come back to him. He slipped the soggy envelope into his pocket this time. He never had believed in coincidences.
The sound of Mike swearing wasn't unusual, but not a common occurrence when they were out on the water. His head came out of the boat and looked up on deck to see what had gotten Mike so riled up.
"Damn line! Grab me a towel! And the medical kit while you're at it!"
He saw Mike holding his hand, the blood already running and dripping on deck.
He was on deck in seconds, wrapping Mike's hand in a towel. Instructing the man to apply pressure to stop the bleeding.
"Ain't my first time, Gunny. Know how to keep myself from bleeding to death" He held his hand over the water. Jethro stood beside him as Mike moved the towel to assess the damage the thick fishing line had done to his hand. Blood still dripped into the ocean, but the cut wasn't deep enough to warrant stitches. Supplies in the med kit should do the trick.
"Forget to use the pole again, Boss?"
He was rewarded with a head slap from Mike's uninjured hand. Ouch! Hadn't had one of those in a while.
"Hauling in our dinner and lost my grip on the pole, wise ass! Any more questions?"
"Nah. Let's fix it, before you draw every shark within a five mile radius"
Mike sat, and let Jethro clean his hand with some peroxide. He hissed at bit at the burn, but returned Jethro's amused look with the glare that Gibbs had adopted from his mentor. He wrapped Mike's hand with the rolled white bandage and secured it with the surgical tape inside the kit.
"Not bad." Mike flexed his fingers a bit, "Where did you learn to play nursemaid? Don't teach you that in the Corp"
"Basic first aid, Mike. Been injured a time or two myself" He thought back to the last time he had cut his hand while fishing.
"Oh, Jethro! Don't be such a baby!" Shannon laughed at him as she wrapped his hand in the white gauze.
"Daddy isn't a baby, Mommy!" He smiled as his daughter came to his defense.
Kelly slipped her small hand into his. Her blue eyes turned to him in concern, "Do you want Mommy to kiss it and make it feel better? That helps me sometimes"
Shannon had indeed rewarded him with a kiss: on his injured hand and on his lips. Kelly was right. It had made him feel better.
He was surprised that he caught himself smiling at the memory. Thoughts of Shannon and Kelly usually brought up pain, but this one was—well, 'bittersweet' was the word that came to mind.
"Been injured a time or two?" Mike snorted, bringing Gibbs back to the present. "I can tell. When did you get that scar under your right shoulder?"
The scar wasn't an easy one to miss. The sun had tanned his skin, but the 6 inch scar remained stark white.
"1998. Positano. Got shot while undercover. Doctor went digging for the bullet"
"Who was covering your six?"
Mike raised his eyebrows, silently asking for more information.
"We were taking fire. Jen was pinned down. We argued about it, but I thought I could make it to a better position; caught a round in my back."
"You're both still breathin' so I take it that you got the bastards"
"I got one. Jenny tapped the other two: three rounds in the heart for one. One between the eyes for the other. Never doubted her to watch my back" Still don't, I guess.
"Remind me never to piss her off"
Jethro grinned at him. "She's one hell of a shot. Especially when she's pissed. Don't know who she was madder at in the end: the guys that were shooting or me for getting shot. She got me patched up. Put me in bed for a week"
"A week? In bed? With that woman looking after you?" Mike laughed, "Hell of a good incentive to be shot, Probie"
"Did I mention she was pissed at me, Mike?"
He coughed, and shot his companion a knowing smile, "Didn't stay that way, did she?"
"Nah. Took me a few days, but she came around. Said that she couldn't tell if I had a death wish or was just accident prone"
"Your tendency to be 'accident prone' is what is ruining my retirement"
"Ruining your retirement? Hell, Mike. Just say the word, and I'm gone"
"Don't tempt me, Jethro!" Mike looked at him and chuckled. "Who else would let you move in and stay for free?"
"Free! Free? Are you serious?"
"Okay," Mike conceded, "you've been handy around the house"
Gibbs grunted; knowing that was the only acknowledgment he was going to get. Coming from Mike, it was more than sufficient.
"Ready to call it a day?"
Mike looked up at the sun. "Almost cantina time. Fine with me"
It was dark, and they were both drunk. Not that it mattered, but the gentle rocking motion of the boat only added to their already impaired equilibrium. Mike had been reliving stories of the "glory days" when NCIS had been simply NIS. Reminding Gibbs of the time when he hauled equipment and Mike barked the orders.
"Couldn't believe that the FBI got the bastard off" Mike was muttering.
"Not much has changed, Boss. Left hand still doesn't tell the right hand what it's doing"
"Secrets. Too many damn secrets. Too many people died 'cause of them"
"Hell, yes!" Mike lit another cigarette, "But retiring isn't one of them. How 'bout you?"
"Care to elaborate?"
Not really was what came to mind. But, hell, he was drunk. It wasn't like Mike was ever going tell anyone.
"Kate. Should have killed Ari before he killed Kate" He rambled on for a bit, giving Mike the short version of the story. He didn't bother hiding the pain in his voice.
"Glad you got the son of a bitch. Sounds like she was a good agent"
"One of my best" He took a long drink of his beer, wishing instead for the burn of bourbon and its ability to help him forget or at least ease the memories. Sorry, Kate.
The men lapsed into a silence broken only by the waves slapping against the side of the boat, or the sound of another lid being twisted off the top of a bottle of Corona.
"Kobotch. Russian mob. Should have killed him when I had the chance. Got screwed by the CIA on that one"
"Jenny" He swallowed hard after saying her name. I must really be drunk to bring her up.
"Regretting what exactly?"
"Never should have let her go, Boss. I could have gone after her when she left, but I didn't." Again, he didn't bother to disguise the pain.
"What's stopping you now? And don't try and tell me that 'it's complicated'".
"Oil and water. They don't mix"
"Not without something to agitate them, they don't. Shake it up a little bit and you've got one hell of a combination"
Agitate. Now there was a word that adequately described what he and Jen did to each other. But he had to concede that once mixed, they worked well together. On so many levels.
Mike's voice cut through the darkness, "Of course, mixing the two is a choice. Man has to make up his mind about that."
Jethro lay back on the deck of the boat and looked up into the darkness. The stars were so bright out here. No city lights to interfere. There was nothing to interfere. No city, no cell phones, no cases, no people. It was easier to think; to see things more clearly. Maybe that's why he had chosen Mexico. Back to choices. He'd let Jenny make her choice about their relationship—both in Paris and in D.C. If a relationship took two people, shouldn't they both get a say about how things would turn out? Fate had robbed him of that choice with Shannon. But Jenny wasn't Shannon. And she was still very much alive.
Mike stirred and he heard the low rumble of the boat's engine kick in. "Time to go home"
Gibbs rubbed his hands across his face and grunted his agreement. He watched the night sky as the boat moved through the water. Time for him to go home. Not quite yet, but soon. Time for him to make a choice about 'oil and water'. The ghost of a smile played on his lips when he thought about just how agitated he might have to get Jenny before she would agree that they did belong together. And that together, they were one hell of a combination.