A/N: This story was written for the NFA Hollis: Love Her or Hate Her Challenge. It is far from being my usual in that first and foremost there is no Tim! Really! He gets mentioned once or twice and seen once...and he doesn't even say anything. Second, this kind of ends up as a romance, even though I didn't plan on it. If you don't like Hollis Mann or her presence on the show, then this may not be the story for you because I quite liked her and was disappointed by her unflattering heave-ho to Lana'i. This story rounds up what happened in my head. ...and you may never see a story like this from again. It was hard not to write Tim into it. :)

Spoilers for season 6 and for NCIS: LA.

Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS or the NCIS characters or any of the franchise in any way, shape, or form. That's why I'm poor. I'm not making money off this. More's the pity.

Right Choice
by Enthusiastic Fish

The birds woke her up again. It was the third week in a row that she'd slept long enough for the birds to wake her up. She didn't know which birds. She'd been here for over a year and a half and still didn't know what types of birds frequented the trees in her yard.

Maybe I should make an effort to find out, she thought.

With a yawn and a stretch, Hollis Mann sat up in bed, looking out the window at the beautiful day. Again. That was why she had chosen Lana'i when she retired...because it had beautiful weather. It was a place she'd only been once but had loved on sight. She had been fortunate to find a fixer-upper to...fix up. It had taken the better part of six months to finish the work, but she was happy with the result. The house was a three bedroom, one bath home. It had a lovely view. Her neighbors were friendly and everything was in easy access...even the beach. It was an ideal spot.

No, it wasn't her location that was the problem. ...only it was.

With a sigh, Hollis pulled herself out of bed. Retiring had seemed like a such a good idea at the time. Eighteen months ago, she had announced her retirement. She'd been young to retire...or so she told herself. Well, in the eyes of the people who made the decisions, she'd retired early. She was a young-un. A wry smile accompanied the thought as she padded into her bathroom.

Years of intense physical activity had kept her fit and looking good...even if she did say so herself. ...it wasn't like there was anyone else to say it to her. She'd never felt the desire or the need to pretty up her appearance with things like botox or liposuction. Even hair-tinting was approached cautiously. If her mother had taught her anything (besides the idea that a lady should never wear trousers...a piece of advice Hollis had steadfastly ignored), it was to grow old with grace. Let one's hair go gray. Let the wrinkles appear. Wrinkles and gray hair showed that a person had truly lived. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she could almost hear her mother's voice.

"Those brainless beauties who tuck this and suck that...they want to keep themselves looking like Barbie dolls for the rest of their lives! Well, guess what, Hollis. Barbie never did have any brains!"

Her mother had been horrified when Hollis had joined the Army...which was part of the reason she had done it, truth be told. Cherie Esther Mann had wanted to raise a young lady in the midst of the four boys she'd had. What she had gotten was tomboy, a rambunctious hellion who had resisted all attempts to tame her wild ways. One threat finally had broken up their tumultuous relationship and Hollis had stormed out of the house during a visit, angry at her mother's "interference." She had long since recognized that her mother had been trying to help her only daughter be happy, but at the time, it had seemed as though she was stifling every creative outlet Hollis had found for herself after years of trying to find a place where she could really fit in.

Quickly, fingers moving with skilled ease, she pulled back her hair into a tight ponytail. Her running partners would be by soon and she hated keeping them waiting for any reason. Twenty-two years in the Army had made punctuality a habit...and being in the Army had also taught her the value of dressing quickly, but still looking put together. Not fancy. She didn't go in for that high-end athletic gear mostly purchased by people who weren't actually athletes to any degree. Nope, it was a t-shirt and shorts (sweats when she'd lived in a place that required them...which Lana'i definitely did not). She changed from her pajamas to her jogging clothes and was out on the porch waiting for them to arrive in less than two minutes.

As she sat, she thought back over the events that had ended up with her essentially exiling herself to this island in the middle of the Pacific. It wasn't that this place was unpleasant. On the contrary, if she could be happy anywhere in retirement, it would be here.

...but she was beginning to think that she couldn't truly be happy in retirement at all. It was a thought that had been coming up more and more frequently lately and it was something that she tried to suppress.

"Hol! You ready?"

"Ready and rarin'!" she shouted back and stood up, stretching her limbs as the trio approached.

It was a strange group she had chosen to associate herself with. Lani was an older retired widow who insisted that her husband would never forgive her if she let herself get lazy. Kareem was a younger man who had dreams of owning one of the condominiums going up on the neighboring island of Maui. Lisa was about eighteen and did anything to get herself out of the house and away from her annoying younger siblings. If that meant she had to get up at six in the morning and go running with a bunch of weirdos, so be it. Kareem lived the farthest down the block and so he would stop at Lani's place and then they would pick up Lisa as they headed to Hollis' house. The running group had begun because, after finally moving in, Hollis had realized that she would go crazy without a morning run, but she also recognized the need to make friends...so she had asked around to see if anyone was interested. Initially, there were probably about ten or twelve who had expressed interest...but only Kareem and Lani had lasted for more than a month. Lisa had seen them walking by one morning and decided to tag along. She'd been tagging along ever since.

"Who's setting the pace today?" Lisa asked.

"Depends," Hollis answered, grinning. "If you want a fast pace, then we should let Lani set it. If you want slow, then we can go with Kareem."

Kareem grinned and bowed. It was a standing joke with them now that Lani could run circles around him. He had initially balked at running with an "old woman." That had quickly faded when he realized that she was in better shape than he was.

"I was up late," Lisa was saying. "Let's let Kareem lead off." She grinned impudently.

Kareem chuckled and they set off...at a fairly slow pace. It was a good thing for Hollis that her competitive streak hadn't ever been activated with this group. She had always gone running alone back in DC. It had taken leaving everything behind to make her willing to smooth her rather abrasive personality, not that she'd ever been really cruel, but as a woman in a traditionally man's world, she'd taken the personality traits which had horrified her mother and honed them to razor-sharp perfection. Letting them dull had been a process of years and even now, she was amazed that the temptation to leave them all in her dust (except maybe Lani) hadn't become overwhelming.

"You know, Hol," Lani began.

"You know a nice young man who would be perfect for me," Hollis completed the sentence without breaking stride. Lani seemed to know an unlimited succession of "nice young men" so much so that Hollis wondered what she did with her days.

"He would be, you know."

"Lani, I'm not looking."

"I know. That's why I'm looking for you."

"Man, you're like my mother," Kareem puffed. "Resist, Hollis!"

"I wish my mom would encourage me to go out."

"You're too young to be getting serious," all three said in unison.

Lisa rolled her eyes and didn't dignify them with an answer.

Half an hour later, they returned to Hollis' house and they slowed to a walk to cool down before stopping. Lisa went into her house with a wave. When they reached Lani's home, she grabbed Hollis' arm and shooed Kareem down the street.

"We have to girl talk, Kareem," she said. "You go on."

"Hold strong, Hollis," he said before continuing on his way home.

"I told you, Lani. I appreciate the offer, but I'm not looking to get into a relationship."

Lani looked at her wisely. "Who left you behind?"

Hollis smiled. "You've got it backwards. I did the leaving."

"All on your own, huh?"

"Totally my decision. It wouldn't have worked out."

"Why not? Too many differences?"

Hollis smiled ruefully. "No. We were too much alike. He was a Marine and I was the Army. We both wanted to be in charge. It was hard for us to work."

"You obviously did for a while."

"Not long enough. I made some mistakes." She shrugged.

"Like what?"

"Like forgetting what I already knew about him and deluding myself that he'd change just for me. I couldn't change myself; so I wanted to change him. It just didn't work out. I knew it wouldn't."

"And so you retired and moved to Lana'i?"

"It's not really a causal connection. I'd already been thinking about it."

"So fast?"

"Feeling my age, I suppose."

"Nothing wrong with that, but you don't look old enough to be feeling your age."

"Good genes. My mother thanks you."

"Am I acting like your mother?"

Hollis laughed. "No. Not at all. My mother would have said that it served me right I was alone, that I drove all the good men away with my rudeness. She definitely would have been angry that I didn't give her any grandchildren." Another shrug. "My brothers did that, thank goodness. Not all her children were disappointments."

Lani looked sad and Hollis hurried to reassure her.

"Don't worry, Lani. I'm...a little disappointed that having a family wasn't in the cards for me, but if it required me changing who I am to get a man to really look at me...it wouldn't have been worth it."

"And this man you were with before?"

Hollis couldn't do anything else but shrug...and then sigh.

"Well, don't punish yourself just because things didn't work out. You don't have to give up what you love doing."

"I'm not, Lani. See you tomorrow."

"Bye, Hollis."

Hollis walked back up the street, waving at Lisa from the sidewalk and then breaking into a slow jog toward her house. Once inside, she turned on the radio and headed to the shower. Lani's questions had put her in a self-reflective mood. She didn't like these moods because she always thought about the same mistakes.

This time, the radio seemed to be reading her mind. A very young-sounding male singer began singing about having a crush and not being able to walk away from it. He'd probably not been alive long enough to really love someone. Then, another song came on, the singer talking about having the time of his life. Hollis had to look at the radio and wonder if she was going to be on some sort of Candid Camera.

Probably 90 percent of the songs on the radio are about falling in or out of love. Get over yourself, Hol.

Still, when yet another song, this one about not giving up on love, started playing, she started to think that there was some sort of cosmic joke going on. She turned off the shower and was unnerved when a song about having a good mother popped up next. Wrapped in a towel, she sank down onto the toilet seat and listened as it played, not moving. It wasn't a song she recognized, but the words were so...poignant. As the song reached its climax and began to wind down, she felt tears on her cheeks.

"Ridiculous," she said to herself and stood up, drying herself off and getting dressed, but as the song went on listing the great things in life, she found herself checking off the things she did have...but she didn't have the most important of them.

Stop reading so much into a song. It's just a song.

The music that followed wasn't especially appropriate for her situation and she was able to finish getting ready for the day without more songs that would strike at her heartstrings.

As the day progressed, however, she wasn't able to shake her mood. As she worked in her small garden, she couldn't help thinking over and over again about what had happened to land her here.

Another song came on.

"Oh, for goodness sake!" She got up and turned off the voice singing, "Maybe it's time to come home..."

Then, she went back to work, stabbing at the rich soil for a few vigorous seconds before sighing and turning the radio back on, just in time to hear, "I'll bet you're hard to get over..."

Part of her wondered if Jethro missed her at all, wondered if he had just gone on like she'd never even existed. No matter how she felt now, she knew what she had told Lani was right. They could never have really expected to last. She was too used to being in charge and Jethro was too much of a chauvinist.

"I know it's wrong and it's a problem..."

Grimacing, she didn't turn off the radio again, not even when a very young girl started singing about a type of love she couldn't possibly have experienced. Pushing away the thoughts that were so unusual for her, she continued her ruthless assault on the the defenseless soil.

"I'm over fifty years old," she muttered to herself. "That's much too old to start behaving like a lovestruck teenager."

After a few more minutes, she stopped and sat in the shade of the trees, absently stabbing the spade into the earth.

She remembered their parting all too clearly. Like a character from one of these silly love songs she kept hearing, she had expected a different ending. She wished, now, that she had admitted that, again, she felt like an idiot. She had done that once before and they had managed to go on from that moment of childish insecurity.

And life had managed to go on when she hadn't admitted it, when she'd felt that her position was the right one and that it was Jethro's fault they had fallen apart. Even now, she thought she was right...and that's why they wouldn't have made it. Hollis accepted that...but it didn't mean that she liked it. Life was like that sometimes.

She'd accept it and move on. She was quite certain Jethro had...certain but not sure. She'd almost called when she'd seen the news that Director Shephard had died. It had seemed such an ignominious death: dying in a fire in one's own home. For one used to fighting her way out of any situation, dying like that seemed unfair. How could you fight if you weren't awake to see it begin? And how could you fight something like fire anyway? Jenny Shephard had made it patently clear that she and Jethro had been an item a long while in the past. She'd never said it explicitly but she had made no bones about what she meant. So, Hollis had been aware. There'd always been some tension between them which she'd always considered a bit ridiculous. Even so, it didn't mean that she wished that kind of death on anyone...and Jethro had probably been upset...in that closed off way he had.

...but she hadn't called. She did hope, for his sake, that they hadn't gotten back together. He'd feel responsible, because Jethro was like that. It fed into his chauvinism. She'd enjoyed it to a certain degree, but not always...and not enough to accept it forever.

Enough reminiscing. This is the life you chose for yourself. Accept it and get on with it.

Even as she thought it, however, she wasn't sure she believed it completely.