For lack of inspiration, I was content to let that be the end of this story… but since inspiration creeps up now and then, I have decided to continue. So, in celebration of finishing my high school exams forever (that's right, I am now officially a high school graduate), I thought I'd write another chapter. Updates from here on in will be much more one-shot format, and won't be all that frequent.
This was inspired by the song "Life Support" from the soundtrack of RENT. I don't own the rights to Rent- though I do own the soundtrack and the movie… Some of the lyrics have been included, just so you know what's going on if you haven't heard the song. Also, I have very little personal experience with muscular-degenerative diseases, so if anyone reads anything about the condition that isn't accurate, please let me know. I've tried to look up as much info as possible, but I can only know so much from a computer screen.
As always, I love feedback, and enjoy.
Two years later…
Gibbs watched, helpless, as Jenny winced while walking through the front door. She was having a bad day, and he had noticed the moment he had walked into the office. She had been standing at the top of the catwalk, and when he had proceeded up the stairs to greet her, she had smiled weakly and not moved. That was his first clue.
Then, when he had escorted her back to her office, instead of sitting, she chose to stand and walk stiffly around the room. That was his second clue.
Now, she walked through the door with a grimace, and could barely bend to place her bag on the hallstand.
Despite her attempts to hide her state, or her pride, which refused to accept help, he walked over to her and helped her out of her coat, hanging it in the cupboard for her. She didn't protest. When he turned back to her, he just watched her for a moment, and she held his gaze. In these moments they could have whole conversations in just a look. She looked tired, but stiff. She didn't try to hide the annoyance from him, nor did she dismiss the hint of fear in her gaze or in his.
Lately, days like these were becoming more and more frequent.
Despite her intense physical therapy, which she had increased in recent months, and her attention to detail with regards to her whole life-style, there was no denying it. Her illness was slowly but surely catching up with them.
The revelation frightened them both. Ducky had said she had four good years left, maybe five with luck and a little extra care. Almost three had passed already since that conversation. They were running out of time.
Jenny sighed, and wrapped her arms around his waist, as his immediately enveloped her in a tight hug. He hated that there was nothing he could do to help her. He hated that she was in pain and he couldn't blame anyone- not even himself this time. Sometimes he even hated that he loved her and she loved him. This would be so much easier to deal with if he didn't care so damn much.
"You okay?" he asked, tilting his head towards her ear without releasing his hold.
She hummed with contentment. "Better now"
She gave a nonchalant shrug. "Bad… not the worst, but not too good either"
He nodded. He knew that already.
"You cooked?" she asked with a knowing smirk and a raise of the eyebrow.
She chuckled. "You could have had that lasagna that Noemi cooked. It's only a day old"
"Nah. I thought I'd leave that for you"
"You didn't have to"
"Did you have lunch?" he asked, as she pulled away and walked over to the kitchen.
She should have been surprised by the apparent change in conversation, but she wasn't. That was just the next question in his ever-working thought process. It was scary just how used to it she was.
"I had a couple of bits of fruit. SecNav needed an update on the Bowman case, and it ran a little over-time"
Gibbs gave a minuscule frown, but it was almost too small to be noticed. The Secretary of the Navy was a busy and important man, and no matter how high on the ladder Jen may be, he wouldn't have just 'run overtime' in a video meeting. Gibbs let the comment slide for the moment, storing it in his mind for later.
"Then the lasagna's yours. You need to eat"
She gave a little groan, very unlike the Jenny he saw at work, and gave a petulant shrug of her shoulder.
"I don't want to eat anything too big just before bed, you know how much I hate sleeping on a full stomach" she whined. Gibbs grinned. Since reuniting romantically they had slipped back into some old habits lost long ago- acting like children was one of them. Having romantic dinners before bed was another. With the grin plastered on his face he walked up to her and gently took hold of her upper arms.
"Jen, you have to eat something decent. I saw how much you didn't eat for breakfast"
He gave her a pointed look without losing the gaiety of the moment. She maintained the pout and playfully scuffed her foot on the ground, hanging her head, as she went to the fridge and pulled out the container with the lasagna in it. She half threw it into the microwave and pushed the buttons with more force than was necessary, throwing a dirty look in his direction for good measure. He rolled his eyes at her antics.
This was how they got by day to day, particularly on day like this one. Quirky, goofy humour always seemed to keep them in good spirits, even if she could barely get up the stairs, or he had to rub her legs for hours to relieve the cramping. It was their coping mechanism, just like Tony's childish ways or Ziva's apparent 'steely-eyed killer' persona.
When the microwave had beeped and Jen had made herself comfortable leaning against the bench, Gibbs finally recalled her earlier comment.
"So, what did SecNav want?"
Jen faulted in her chewing, before finishing her mouthful and meeting his gaze. She kept her tone light.
"We were discussing my future at NCIS"
Gibbs frowned, but didn't interrupt.
"I suggested that it was time to consider looking for my replacement"
"Jethro" she sighed. "There is no point delaying the inevitable. I mean, I can barely make it up and down the stairs some days, let alone sit for hours at a desk- which, by the way, my therapist says is the worst possible place for me to be all the time. I've done well, considering. I'm still mobile, and apart from a couple of exceptions, I've still been able to do everything…" she paused "…most things, by myself"
She sighed again.
"I think it's time to quit while I'm ahead. My staying would do nothing for the agency, and it's not the best thing for me either. I've indulged my ambition as long as possible, but I have also learnt when enough is enough"
Gibbs sighed and diverted his gaze. He knew it had been a long time coming. The fact that Jenny had initiated the conversation with SecNav told him that she had been thinking about it for some time. He looked back up at her and found she had already gone back to eating, waiting for him to gather his thoughts. He hated that it had come this far, and that it seemed like yesterday he was finding out about her illness.
"Jen… are you sure this is what you want? The job…"
"The job has been the most important part of my life for too long. I've got where I wanted to get, and I stayed there for as long as I needed to" she lowered her tone, revealing a tenderness to it that had been hidden by her frankness. "I want to spend whatever time I've got left focusing on myself, and what I need, rather than competing with ghosts. And I need time with you. Not pouring over case files or arguing about joint jurisdictions… just you and me."
He gave a little grin. Yes, he was still a man with an ego. No, he never got sick of her affection.
"The job is not that important anymore. I wont let it keep us apart… again… not when there's no second chances left. I may have been all about the job and compartmentalizing- using reason to run my life. And it served me well in the past. But I'm lucky to have got this far. I'm willing to take a hint from… God, or fate, or whatever it is that has given me this time… I'm trying to live a little differently now. Because that reason said I should have died three years ago. And I'm still here. Time I start living like I'm here… while I can"
He watched her with sadness as she gave him a tender smile and went back to eating. He walked over to her, leaned again the bench next to her hip, and placed an arm around her shoulders, not hindering her ability to eat. He placed a kiss in her hair. The last few years had taught them both some valuable lessons- Jen had come to see that, while her job made her feel proud, Gibbs made her feel so unbelievably content. Gibbs had come to understand her decision to leave, and respect her more for coming back.
He squeezed her shoulder a little, rubbed her arm, and stepped away.
"You gonna go work on the boat?"
"Yeah. You need a hand?" he asked, gesturing with his head to the stairs. On a bad day she needed his help on the stairs.
"I'll finish this first, then I might come join you for a bit. I'm not feeling tired enough for bed just yet"
"Okay. You need anything…"
"I'll call" she said with a smile. He nodded and headed down to the basement.
It wasn't long before he heard footsteps on the basement stairs. Jen walked slowly, though she didn't seem in much pain. He looked up from sanding, watched her for a few steps, then turned around and picked up another sanding block and passed it to her when she came over. She took it wordlessly and continued sanding on the other side. They often worked silently together, though they didn't speak much, preferring to leave the basement as a place of sanctuary and silence. This boat was half done, the last one given to Amira as a gift. Gibbs had yet to reveal his name for this one, and Jenny really, really didn't want to ask. Unfortunately, Jenny had been in meetings all day the day the other one was taken out, and had come home to find she, too, had missed the opportunity to see how Gibbs got his damn boats out of the basement. She'd sulked for days while Gibbs laughed at her every time he caught her at the top of the stairs, searching for seems in the walls.
A couple of hours later, both of them tired and definitely ready for bed, Gibbs wordlessly went over to his workbench where Jenny was sitting on a stool. Taking the screwdriver out of her hand and switching off the lamp on the bench, he grabbed her hand and pulled her up by her elbow. He liked to help her, even if she didn't necessarily need it. At each staircase- both the one out of the basement and the one to the second floor- he would walk next to her, holding her elbow with one hand while the other snaked behind her back and supported her waist. On good days the help was minimal. On bad days- days like today- she relied on his help and would lean on him to get up the stairs. Gibbs was thinking of moving their things to the downstairs bedroom to make things easier for her.
They fell asleep quickly that night, Gibbs arm around her waist, her body molding into his. Even in sleep they made the most of their time together, and the presence of another person with her at night meant Jenny's nightmares weren't nearly as scary as they had been years ago. Gibbs' nightmares, however, often woke him, and it was only the feel of his arm rising and falling with her breaths, a light snore coming from her, that allowed him to fall back asleep.
It was a delicate balancing act, this happiness they shared. Just like always, they had become masters of ignoring things- ignoring the pain, the winces, the shaking glass of water in her hand, the look of pity. But unlike before, where their ignorance had kept them apart, this ignorance kept them together. It kept the mood light, kept the smiles on their faces, kept them from having another argument about how much she needed to rest, how much he needed to back off, how much she 'didn't need him'.
How much he didn't need her.
How much it was killing him to watch her die.
How much he loved her.
Yes, the ignorance was welcomed. But by God, he wished it didn't need to be.
As always, please R&R.