A/N: And Thus I make good on my promise to provide fluff to assuage the angst I pelt you with in Russian Twilight.
Dedication: to GeekLoveFan, who celebrated her 10th anniversary on Thursday, and who asked for Smut/Fluff. I bargained with her, and promised Diet Smut and fluff (that's actually Sap). Also, for Mil16 (Amelia) who mocked fluff for me with an hour, and then I told her this was in the making.
Inspired by: The Unites States Botanical Gardens in Washington, DC. Curated by the Smithsonian Institute and funded by Congress. The Gardens and Exhibits are entirely factual.
Jennifer Shepard, first female director of a federal agency, tilted her head thoughtfully as she looked down into the clear, sparkling water, intricately decorated with carved marble, of the First Ladies' Water Garden.
She reached up to brush her bangs out of her eyes lightly and smiled a little at her reflection, enjoying the peace and tranquility and the sound of bubbling water. Briefly, all of her paperwork, her press conferences, and the cases and politics she had to handle attempted to worm themselves to the forefront of her mind, but a gentle hand on her lower back reminded her she wasn't the Director of NCIS tonight.
She was just Jenny, and she was a very happy, impressed Jenny at that.
She straightened a little and turned her head, the corners of her mouth turning up a little at the self-satisfied smirk Leroy Jethro Gibbs still had plastered on his face, left over from the reaction he'd gotten from her when she discovered he had secured a tour of the United States Botanical Gardens—alone, uninterrupted, and after hours.
"Jethro…how the hell did you manage this?" she had asked, staring in disbelief from the front seat of his car.
"Know a guy," he had answered, ominous and gruff, and marched to her side of the car to drag her out.
In the end, as annoyed as she'd been that he had showed up on the Saturday she had adamantly designated as a work day, forced her into something pretty, and coerced her to go out with him…she was glad that he was such a pushy bastard.
Because he was kind of her pushy bastard.
"I am still dreading placating whoever you bullied to secure this private tour when your methods come to light," she teased.
He grinned and slipped his arm around her waist, tugging her into his side and kissing her neck lightly. Jenny smiled and hit him playfully on the shoulder, squirming away. She backed away from the edge of the Water Garden. Her yellow, uncharacteristic flip-flops smacked against the concrete walkway surrounding the little tribute to the wives of Presidents past.
It was warm and dry outside, a precursor to humid summer, and she reveled in it. She loved summer, and she didn't think it had looked more beautiful than right now, under the inky starry sky in the gardens.
Jenny looked around, her eyes on a few paths. They had come first from Bartholdi Park, a tribute to elegant landscaping with sculpted fountains accentuating the beauty of the grounds. They lingered in the National Garden now, where they'd already seen the Lawn Terrace and now the First Ladies' Water Garden, and she was at a loss as to where to turn next.
"Rose Garden," Jethro grunted helpfully, resting his hand on her shoulder as he came up behind her and pointed down one of the paths. "Butterfly Garden," he added, pointing down the other.
She glanced at him and looked skeptical.
"I'm beginning to think you have a secret passion for horticulture than you compensate for in your manly, growly daily exterior," she remarked wickedly.
He smirked at her and pressed his fingers into her ribs, eliciting an affronted squeal of protest as she jumped and moved away from the tickling.
"I'm just tryin' to get you into bed, Jen," he quipped.
She blew air through her lips and rolled her eyes, pulling away again and waltzing down the butterfly path.
"Nope. Not buying it, Jethro. If that were so, you would have simply dragged me upstairs instead of to the Smithsonian."
He snorted as he started after her, taking one last glance around the First Ladies' tribute. He slipped his hands in his pockets and clenched one of his fists, his eyes trained on the back of her head and the attractive twist she had her shoulder-length hair pulled up in.
He quickened his pace to catch up with her.
"Enjoying the view?" she asked without looking back.
"Wasn't lookin'," he snapped in her ear and she jumped, clearly having thought he wasn't that close to her.
"Liar," she accused with a smirk. He shrugged.
The pathway melted seamlessly into what was designated the Butterfly Garden by a plaque. It was a place dedicated to the cultivation of plants that produced nectar to attract butterflies, though at this time of night, few butterflies were flitting around.
Jenny wandered through the plants, admiring them accordingly. They were bright and seductive to the eye, some exotic, and some as common as the daisy. She paused by a generous collection of Marigolds.
"Jethro, I found your favorite flower," she called innocently.
He appeared next to her to look and then scowled and backed away. She smiled and turned, approaching him. He held up a hand suspiciously but she revealed hers to be empty. As if she'd pluck a flower from Congress's personal garden. Even her status as Director wouldn't protect her from the wrath of the environmentalists, and she didn't blame them a bit.
"You remember those Marigolds in Marseille, Jethro?" she probed sweetly, winkling her nose to keep from laughing at the grumpy look on his face. "They made your eyes swell up and your nose run—"
"Jen," he interrupted. "Yeah, I remember," he relented.
She pursed her lips in mock sympathy.
"And you still hold a grudge against the poor Marigolds."
He looked affronted at the suggestion.
"I had an allergic reaction, Jenny," he protested defensively.
"Are you suggesting the Marigolds conquered you?" she asked innocently.
He glared at her.
"Hey, look, Jen. Some nice poppies," he announced, pointing to a wild clump of them.
Jenny stopped smiling and retreated, not having realized she'd been so close. She made a face and Jethro smiled triumphantly, moving closer to her. He put his lips next to her ear.
"You love poppies, right?"
"Poppies creep me out," she answered with a shiver.
Jethro put his hands on her bare arms and rubbed, tightening his hands on her elbows and tugging her backwards. She turned and shook him off, giving him a look. He jerked his head towards the rose garden and she nodded, deciding the butterfly garden might be more worth it in the sunlight of day, when the butterflies actually visited it.
"Never did get why poppies freak you out," he muttered.
She glared at him.
"You've seen The Wizard of Oz," he said.
He gave her a smug look.
"Right. Forgot that movie scares the daylights out of you," he teased.
"Laugh all you want," she retorted seriously. "Those monkeys are horrific."
He surprised her with a loud laugh. She gave him a look.
"Jen, remember that case at the zoo your first year? Burley made fun of you for a month after that incident—"
"No, Jethro, you made fun of me for a month. Damn monkey…it pulled my hair!"
"Yeah, well, you didn't have to scream the place down…"
Jenny shook her head and then smiled good-naturedly, a lot of good memories brought back by the mention of her early days as his partner.
"I can't believe you brought that up," she said, giving him another look.
"Fair game. You brought up the Marigolds."
"Oh, but Jethro, I was just warning you to stay away…" she answered sweetly, and laughed when he rolled his eyes.
She paused in the middle of the pathway in the rose garden, looking around at the overwhelming display of different plants, all sporting roses. China roses, tea roses, Damask roses, classic red roses and so many others. She had never seen so many in one place.
She reached out and let her fingers brush against the petals of a Pernetiana rose, intrigued by the apricot-yellow colour.
"Jen, c'mere," Jethro ordered abruptly.
She tilted her head at the Pernetiana and turned away, walking over on her own time just to frustrate him. He stood further down the path near a bouquet of abundance roses; these were fiercely in bloom. She recognized them instantly and smiled, covering her mouth to muffle a laugh. She felt like she should show some quiet respect for this place.
This particularly hilarious rose was furnished with glossy petals, white, tinted with violent, and similarly green-violet tinted stem and thorns.
"They're so rare in America," Jenny stated through amusement. "I haven't seen this many since—that night in Paris we got so drunk—"
"All I remember is how amazed you were that there was a Bourbon rose," he retorted. "Hell of a night."
She scoffed and nudged his shoulder skeptically.
"Like you remember it worth anything," she snorted.
"Yeah, Jen, I'd forget something like that," he said sarcastically.
It had been a few weeks into their mission, a few weeks after that second night in Marseille, and they'd stumbled across the wondrous Bourbon rose in a florist's shop in Paris. Unbeknownst to her, Jethro had purchased a ridiculous amount of the roses, arranged them around a few bottles of strong bourbon, and she'd laughed at the idea for hours before they'd discovered the Bourbon gone with their clothes.
"It wasn't that funny, Jen."
"Yes it was. It was clever!" she defended, bursting into laughter again. She had no idea why it had amused her so much, but it still amused her now because she was sure neither one of them had ever remembered exactly what happened that night.
Jenny looked around the garden, turning slowly.
"I wonder if they count black roses as part of their illustrious collection," she mused in honor of Abby Sciuto.
Jethro snorted, shaking his head. She tilted her head, raising his eyebrows.
"They don't," he said. "Abby's already sent a few letters reprimanding them."
Jenny laughed and smiled fondly, always endeared to the Gothic forensic scientist by her actions and her passion.
She explored the garden, relaxed and at ease. Jethro stayed close, letting her look, hardly saying a word. It was odd to discover that many of their memories involved flowers, when she remembered him actually buying her some only a handful of times. Orchids twice, they were her favorite; Roses once, to apologize; and Sunflowers once, in Madrid when it had rained for days.
She was still curious where this had come from. Botanical Gardens and Jethro simply didn't mix; any form of Museum and Jethro typically didn't mix—unless said museum involved guns and the military. Not that she was complaining. Protest as she might against leaving her precious work, she was touched by the gesture.
The sound of crickets and the rustle of plants in the breeze made it all the more alluring to experience the fabled Botanical Gardens with no one else around.
Jethro touched her arm once the perusal of the rose garden had been expended and she lifted her eyebrows, waiting for him to inform her where their next destination was.
"Conservatory," he informed, starting towards the exquisite glass buildings that were home to the most beloved exhibits.
"Is there a reason for this, Jethro?" she asked, slipping her arm around his waist comfortably.
"For what?" he grunted.
"You're so charming when you feign ignorance," she remarked cheekily and he grinned. "Really, Jethro. The Botanical Gardens, calling in favors to this mysterious guy you know to get us in alone? You killed that Senator involved in your case didn't you? And you're buttering me up."
He laughed at her and shrugged his shoulders, catching the handle of the Conservatory door and swinging it open easily. She let go of him and walked through, turning around and raising an eyebrow at him, expecting an answer.
"You like flowers," he pointed out neutrally.
She looked incredulous at the simple honest answer.
"And that fact prompted you to submit yourself to a night in a museum of flowers for my pleasure?" she asked. She whirled around, her head turning up to admire the room they were in—The Garden Court of the Wilkes Expedition—and threw him a suspicious glance. "You are starting to scare me."
He smirked and she returned to the exhibits. She was fascinated by the plants displayed in honor of the Wilkes Expedition, the first flora to grace the newly created Botanical Gardens back in the days of James Monroe. This display was historical, right up Jenny's alley, a snooze to Jethro. He was content to watch her enjoy it though, his hand still shoved in his pocket, running over the object there.
The East and West galleries were closed for renovation until Spring, but he was content to skip them; they were more a tribute to plan fertilization and breeding than the actual flowers themselves.
She wasn't interested in the Plant Exploration house, but lingered appreciatively in the Rare and Endangered Species house, fascinated by the Australian Foxtail Palm and a few of the other covetously protected plants.
She pressed the palm of her hand to a misshapen and Suessical cactus and Jethro cringed, reaching out to stop her.
"It's a cactus, Jen," he informed her.
"That explains the spines and dusty green colour," she answered sarcastically, swatting his hand away. "The sign said the spines were as sharp as Persian blades."
"And your response was to touch it?" he asked exasperatedly. He narrowed his eyes at her and Jenny shrugged, her eyes sparkling mischievously.
"I like to live on the edge," she pulled her hand away and flexed her fingers. She hadn't hurt herself at all.
She looked off into the next room and pressed her lips together. She nodded her head and looked back at Jethro, turning around. Her dress swung around her legs and settled.
"What's there, since you seem to know this place so eerily well," she asked smartly.
"The Jungle Exhibit," he answered seriously.
She looked impressed and looked at it. Then she reached forward and grabbed his hand, dragging him through the Rare and Endangered species exhibit and into the Jungle room, eager to see the tropical plants.
She slowed to a stop and her eyes widened as she looked around at the replica of a Rainforest.
"Damn," she breathed, awed.
Old cracked stone and marble walkways peppered the room. A fancy plague at the entrance informed her that the room was modeled after an Old South plantation, and what would happen if a Jungle overtook it.
It was artistic and clever, and a feat of beauty.
She looked up, where a catwalk surrounded the room about twenty-five feet above the ground floor, allowing visitors to peer into the canopies below. She started forward in wonder, taking in everything.
Jethro smiled and followed behind. He was finding it hard to prevent himself from becoming increasingly arrogant. She had been swamped with work all week, stressed and snippy, and he had hardly agreed with her decision to use Saturday, a rare day off, to stay in and catch up on work.
So he acted, but it wasn't necessarily on impulse. He had been throwing this idea around for a while.
"Jethro," she yelled to him, leaning over the banister of the stairs that wound up to the catwalk.
She arched an eyebrow. A few tendrils of her hair fell around her face, framing it. She smirked and jerked her head upwards, pushing off the banister and darting up the stairs. He followed her, taking them a few at a time until they were high above the jungle exhibit.
He walked towards her; she leaned over the railing, looking down in admiration, her hands lightly gripping the rail. He crept up behind her silently and grabbed her waist firmly, shaking her as if he would push her over the edge.
Jenny jumped and shrieked, leaping back into him and reaching to grab for his hand. She gasped in outrage when she realized he'd been the one to jostle her and whirled around, backing away against the rail.
"Bastard," she hissed, suppressing an exhilarated smile. She reached out and punched him in the shoulder, to which he only responded with a grin and stepped into her sphere of personal space.
He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and pressed his other into her hip, leaning forward to kiss her. Jenny reached behind her to grip the railing for security, even though she trusted him, and pressed her palm against his chest. He traced his tongue along her bottom lip and she opened her mouth to him, flexing her fingers against his chest.
She broke away to breathe, parting her lips, but he only gave her a moment before he kissed her quickly again, running his hand suggestively over her hip.
"Mmmm," she murmured appreciatively, leaning her head back and smiling softly. He pressed a chaste kiss to the corner of her mouth and then to her jaw reverently.
"Yes, there's something wrong with you," she announced decidedly, lifting her head to look at him. He glared and she smiled primly. "You are acting much too…cuddly."
"Cuddly?" he repeated, scoffing.
She nodded matter-of-factly, biting her lip, and turned around, leaning over the rail again to look over the expanse of faux jungle. He slipped his arms warmly around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder.
"You like it," he accused gruffly, turning his face into her neck.
"I do," she admitted.
He smiled, strangely excited to hear the words 'I do' from her lips. He looked down into the exhibit too, running his hand languidly over her hips and her sides. He reached up and brushed it over the bare skin of her neckline and ran it over her again, stealthily inching cotton dress material into his hand.
She breathed in shakily when he slipped his hand under the dress and stroked up her thigh explicitly.
"Very inappropriate, Jethro," she admonished uncaringly. "Possible even illegal," she added, noting where they were. This was Congress' property.
She gave him a few liberties until he pressed his lips to the back of her neck lightly and slipped his fingers under the lace of her panties temptingly. She bit her lip.
"Thin ice," she warned under her breath, holding her breath. He scraped his teeth against her neck and she gasped, and reached down for his hand in reprimand. She caught it, tangling in the material of her desk. "And just what do you think you're doing, Agent Gibbs?" she demanded seriously.
"Softening you up," he answered seriously.
She shook her head imperceptibly, smirking a little.
"You've got something up your sleeve," she murmured.
"Who, me? Nah," he answered sarcastically, grinning.
She laughed and then quieted, admiring the scenery again. This had to be her favorite. This or the rose garden. It was a close call. How long had she gone without a phone call or a case file now? She didn't know, and it was a good feeling.
Jethro moved his hands to her shoulders and massaged, working out what knots were left.
"Want to move on?" he asked neutrally, looking around the room for a last glance.
"There's more?" she murmured disbelievingly.
He nodded. "I can't believe you've never been here, Jen," he added.
"Nothing can be more beautiful than this room," she stated sincerely, still in love with it.
He moved away a little.
"Wanna bet?" he asked, as if challenged by her declaration. She turned and looked at him defiantly.
"Yeah. I'd put two weeks of buying you coffee one it," she retorted confidently.
He smirked arrogantly.
"C'mon," he urged with a wave, turning and starting down the stairs again.
She looked after him with an amused smile and then followed, leaving the catwalk, her flip flops loud on the stairs as she hurried to keep up. He breezed through the density of DC's own personal tropics and found the exit to this room, walking right through to another without waiting.
Jenny followed, jumping to catch the door before it closed, and peeked through skeptically, waltzing through the door, an unimpressed look already in place on her lips.
That look faded immediately when she really took a look around.
Jethro faced her proudly, with a triumphant smirk.
Orchids. Orchids, everywhere. In stunning shades, in different colours, exotic and rare, natural and hybrid. Purple and magenta and pink and white and yellow. An elegant plaque labeled it the Orchid Room, and boasted of over five thousand species with two-hundred on display at any given time. She stared, her lips parted. She hardly moved until Jethro waved his hand in front of her face.
"You owe me coffee for two weeks," he stated pretentiously.
She blinked and looked at him, speechless for a few seconds.
"Yeah. You win," she admitted whole-heartedly, still struck by the beauty of the orchids. So many of her favorite flower collected in one room. Jethro had really out done himself.
She turned, walking past him, looking at all the flowers, silent and admiring. She loved the purple orchids, the classics that Jethro had gotten for her once and that she always looked for in florist shops and gardens, but these others were so enticing. Orchids that hung like strings of ivy covered with purple flowers, pink orchids, orchids that twisted and turned beautifully. The Cambria, an orchid that looked like a tiger, speckled white and red.
She paused at a collection of pale, sunshine yellow orchids riddled with white fluffy flowers, reading the sign that told her they were rare and endangered, almost extinct. She touched a petal gently, careful not to hurt it.
She smiled, and then smirked, looking over her shoulder at him suspiciously and as if she'd caught him in the act.
"You've definitely done something wrong. Committed a felony even, if it provoked this," she said appreciatively.
He looked at her smugly. She smiled and tilted her head; Jethro approached, resting his hand on her shoulder from behind her and looking at the flower. He reached into his pocket with his other hand and touched the long object there, fingering it to stoke his confidence.
"Don't have anything up my sleeve, Jen," he said innocently.
"Of course you don't. And Ducky is Irish."
"Might have somethin' in my pocket…" he muttered.
She snorted at the joke and nudged him with her elbow gently, leaning back into him. He pulled out said object and looked at it. Carefully, he pressed it against her back and watched her tilt her head a little curiously.
"That's cold—Jethro, if you're about to let a bug loose on me—"she warned.
"Jen, I love you."
She stopped speaking. Just like that. She bit down on her lip like she always did when he said those words. She started to turn, dragging her eyes away from the orchids.
"Jesus, Jethro you're a walking cliché to…night…" she trailed off, her words slamming together in her throat, choking her, when her eyes fell on what he had pressed into her back.
Instinctively, she reached out to touch it, hesitant at first; as if afraid the pristine white-gold would burn her skin. Jethro held the diamond ring up in front of her, his eyes on her intently as she looked at it, gingerly running the pads of her slim fingers over the band and then the sparkly clear diamond inlaid between two vine-like swirls of emerald.
She bit her lip.
"This is an engagement ring," she murmured quietly.
He opened his mouth, but she cut him off.
"Are you going to marry me?" she asked.
He glared at her.
"Why don't you let me ask, Jen?" he asked loudly.
She put her fingers to her lips and twitched her nose a little.
"Sorry," she whispered, a shaky feeling spreading through her.
"Jen. Will you—"
"Yes," she said immediately, her voice still quiet, and he glared at her again. She bit on her lip hard and slipped her arms around his neck, ignoring the glare, careful not to knock the ring out of his hand. She put her hand on the back of his head and kissed his neck, hugging him tightly.
"Marry me," he muttered, disgruntled, and then couldn't help smiling into her hair. He fumbled for her hand on his shoulder and deftly pushed the ring on, dropping a kiss to her hair. "Good enough," he mumbled.
She drew back and kissed him hard, raw and emotional. She blinked back the sting in her eyes and put her hands on his neck; she kept kissing him.
"You sure you didn't do something wrong?" she asked shakily, smiling.
"Just didn't fight for you eight years ago," he answered with a shrug. She winced at the thought of what she'd done to him in Paris, but pushed it away. Clearly, they had put the past behind them. Or blended it into the future; it was up in the air now.
"This isn't a joke, is it?" she asked suspiciously.
"Seriously, Jen? I'm not that much of a bastard," he retorted, offended.
"Hmmm," she murmured, pressing the back of her hand to his cheek gently. She turned her hand over and looked at her ring; shivers crawled through her to see it on her finger. "Prove it?"
He glared at her. She bit her lip and smiled her tongue in her cheek wickedly.
"I'll marry you if you pick me one of those yellow orchids," she said in a low, sly voice.
"What?" he asked, unsure if he'd heard her right.
"I dare you. Pick me a yellow orchid," she said.
Without batting an eyelid, Jethro extricated himself from her grip, plucked the nearest blooming yellow orchid, and held it out to her with a flourish, his face carefully composed and stern. Her jaw literally dropped and she gasped, looking around.
"Jethro!" she hissed. "I can't believe you did that!"
But it thrilled her all the same. He hadn't even considered repercussions; he'd just turned around and done it. Again, she wondered what had ever possessed her to leave him all those years ago.
"It's endangered!" she reprimanded, taking the flower from him reverently.
He shrugged defiantly.
"It's more in danger now because you'll probably kill it," he quipped deadpan.
She gave him a look of mock outrage. He broke into a grin and reached for her hand, looking at the flower and then at her ring. He tugged her closer and kissed her lips and hugged her, and she pressed a chaste kiss below his ear.
"I love you too, Jethro," she mumbled sincerely. A wicked smirk spread across her lips. "But while we're on the topic of endangered species, it's a good thing you're not overly concerned with them considering happy marriages seem to be classified under 'endangered' when one looks at your track record…"
She trailed off, laughing as he reached up, covered her mouth with a glare, and then pulled his hand away and kissed her. She wrapped her arm around his neck, the flower resting against his back, and pulled him closer by his collar, the heady scent of orchids seducing her as much as the thought of marrying him.
And with that I end, and ask: Would you like some pancakes with that syrupy, sweet sap?