A/N: Malarkey. A name taken from (well, the English vocabulary, for one) the HBO series 'Band of Brothers', featuring a Private Malarkey, who is once oh-so-lovingly referred to as 'Private Bullshit'. Thank you, Tom Hanks.
Dealing with the loss was comparable to walking on eggshells. He wasn't sure she felt the same way; for once, Leroy Jethro Gibbs was finding it hard to gauge Jenny's emotional state. She seemed a little angry, a little reserved, a little less snappy, and a little more willing to listen if he told her to rest or eat something.
He'd call her behavior normal, except he knew something was going on in her head.
He knew she hadn't slept at all this past night, a mere couple nights after the miscarriage, yet he hadn't followed her when he heard her get up. It was Sunday morning, she was probably going stir crazy from lack of work or venturing from the house, and he thought it best to let her be.
Sunday mornings were usually good, if circumstances provided for the absence of Jenny's work and Kelly and Tim didn't bring Levi over. Jethro lay on his back contemplating dragging himself out of bed when she entered the room and crawled back in bed, clad still in one of those little nightie things he liked so much.
She crouched half over him, one leg between his, one arm next to his shoulder, and kissed his jaw.
"Jethro, you ate all the strawberries," she murmured. He shrugged, breathing in her scent. She'd been into the coffee. She smiled against his neck and pressed her lips to his. She tasted like coffee.
She straddled his hips and slipped her tongue in his mouth, finding him a quite willing participant in this turn of events. He ran his hands over what inch of her bare skin he could and then pulled her silk over her head and tossed it aside.
It half-occurred to him they should take it easy—no, wait another day or so, but he was hard-pressed to turn Jenny down, and she knew better than him what she could handle and what she wanted.
He was surprised when, after a good fifteen minutes of foreplay, he pulled her under him and she gripped his shoulder and stopped him. He furrowed his brow, trying to figure out what was wrong from the guarded look in her emerald eyes.
"Jethro, will you," she paused, as if she couldn't believe she was saying this, "put a condom on?"
He blinked. His instinctual reaction was to say no, and ask why; considering it was highly unlikely she could get pregnant right now anyway. He showed restraint, though, for the most part, and resorted to just staring at her, because the wary look was already on his face.
She shifted uncomfortably and tilted her head back, looking at the bedside table.
"I just don't want to get pregnant again," she murmured. Jethro nodded slowly and reached for the bedside table's drawer, fumbling around for the stash that was kept there for the hell of it. She covered her face with her hands and swept her hair back, running her hands up and down his arms softly.
He kissed her again, tangling his hand into her hair, and she startled him again by gripping his bicep and pressing her knee into his groin. She winced.
"Jen!" he barked, more because it hurt like hell than because he was angry with her.
"I'm sorry," she breathed tensely. "Jethro—"
"I can't…I don't want to do this," she said quietly. He gave her a look of pure frustration, which he quickly softened when he noticed how upset and apologetic she was. He moved off of her and rested his palm on her shoulder, propping himself up on one elbow.
Jenny turned towards him and buried her face in his chest, breathing shallowly.
"It's fine, Jenny," he soothed mildly. She shook her head.
He disentangled himself after a moment and she rolled to her back, looking up at him.
"I don't want you to leave," she said sincerely, her cheeks flushed pink.
"Cold shower," he answered gruffly, kicking the sheets back.
Jenny let her eyes run over him and sat up, her hair tumbling forward. She grabbed his shoulder, shook her head, and beckoned with her finger. She tugged him backwards.
"I refuse to let my husband resort to such barbaric means simple because I have decided to have a psychological breakdown," she said wryly, drawing sheets back towards her. "Lean back," she ordered, tapping the headboard.
He did so, and she snuggled up to his side, stretching her long, smooth legs out next to him. Jenny started at his neck, kissing slowly, and trailed her hand down his chest and below his navel.
He came up from the basement, escaping from the frigid air that lingered down there during the winter. It was snowing again and that tended to make everything colder. He'd spent a lot of the morning fixing the water heater.
Jenny was in the kitchen, cutting the little green tops off strawberries he had gone out to buy on a whim, since he'd been saddled with the accusation of eating them all. He was pretty sure a certain conniving grandson of his had hijacked their strawberries, but he didn't tattle on Levi.
He just planned on eating all of the tortilla chips in Kelly and Tim's house in the next few days and blaming Levi for revenge.
Jethro poured a cup of the coffee that was ever-present in his house during the winter and drank it silently, watching Jenny methodically chop the fruit.
"I am returning to my place of employment tomorrow."
"No," he grunted immediately. It was a reflex for the most part. He felt one more day was best.
"It's been a ridiculous three days," she snapped back.
"Friday doesn't count. You had the miscarriage Friday morning," he retorted.
She stayed silent. It was the first time either of them had bluntly or directly referenced what had happened using the proper terminology. The knife she was holding thumped against the cutting board loudly in the silence.
"You have two choices that I think are quite reprehensible to you," she continued quietly after a moment. "Allow me to return to work, or witness me losing my mind."
He growled unhappily at her, taking a slow drink of coffee and setting his mug down. He fixed a sharp glare on her, which she carelessly ignored, altogether unfazed by it.
"You'll take it easy?" he asked shortly.
She cracked a sarcastic smirk.
"I humbly vow to only exert myself in slapping Tony twice."
He smirked, pushing off from the counter and moving closer to her. He took up watching her cut the strawberries, his eyes on the fruit, then her petite, graceful hands, then the elegant beauty of her profile, framed by a few tendrils of red hair that escaped the low ponytail she wore.
He snaked his arm around her waist and nuzzled her neck, brushing her lips against her jaw. Her skin was warm.
"Hot water's fixed," he told her, placing a kiss to her ear.
He heard the thud of the knife again and looked down, eyebrows going up in mild surprise. She'd cut her finger, and she dropped the knife, stared at the blood blooming on her index finger for a moment, and then cursed, a delayed reaction.
"Jesus, Jenny," he remarked, releasing her and reaching out to take her injured finger.
She jerked it away, her jaw tightening, and looked at the injury with narrowed eyes. She shoved the fruit away along with the knife. Jethro reached past her and turned on the cold water, which she put her finger under.
She sucked in her breath, turned off the water herself, and leaned forward over the sink.
"Shit," she hissed. She shook her head, gripping the edge of the sink. "I can't stop thinking about it," she said hoarsely. Jethro leaned against the counter, crossing his arms and watching her sharply.
"I can't get it out of my head. It shouldn't be this damn hard, it's just," she paused. "Just a miscarriage…"
She took a breath and her voice caught.
After a moment of silence, he asked somewhat helplessly:
"What do you need me to do?"
She leaned down some and then shook her head slowly.
"No, it isn't your fault. You're not doing anything wrong," she murmured, almost to herself. She straightened and turned round, putting her hands up in a 'don't try to touch me' gesture. She bit her lip and then her eyes took on a determined look.
"I'm going to Arlington," she said quietly, slipping past him.
He listened to her getting her coat. He listened to her keys jingle. He wanted to stop her, but he didn't, even if he thought it was the worst idea she'd had yet. Visiting Peter and Jim at the cemetery? He shuddered to think…
He heard her come back in the kitchen and turned around.
"I was anticipating an objection," she said, lifting an eyebrow.
"If you need to see them, Jen," he said, breaking off open-endedly.
She looked at him impassively while she buttoned and tied her coat, looping car keys around her finger.
"Tell me to drive safely," she requested with a wry smile.
"Drive safely," he complied.
"Ah. There. Alas, I feel unnecessarily protected, and life gains some normalcy back."
"Hi, Daddy," Kelly said, when he answered the phone. "How's Jenny?"
"She'll be fine."
"Implying she's not actually fine," Kelly stated skeptically.
"She lost a baby, Kel," he said.
"So did you," his daughter responded pointedly. He pushed the comment from his mind, because he'd been trying not to think of like that.
"What did you want?" he asked a little sharply, making it clear he didn't want to get into it. The phone had begun ringing about fifteen minutes after Jenny left for Arlington. Jethro was on edge with her out driving in the ice in her state.
"Ah, is Jenny coming back to work tomorrow? Tony's concern is beginning to drive as all insane, as well as his authoritarian rule. He has a theory you killed her and hid the body," Kelly explained with a snort.
Jethro glared at the tool bench he was standing in front of.
"Yeah, she's coming back."
"You sound thrilled," Kelly pointed out wickedly. He grunted in a non-committal way. "Levi misses you guys," his daughter continued after a moment. "He's out with Tim picking out a new sled right now."
"Good," Jethro muttered.
"Are you listening to me?"
"Aww, you're worried about Jenny," Kelly cooed sweetly.
"Kelly," Jethro growled.
"Oh come on Dad. It's cute."
"I'm hanging up."
"Wait," Kelly cried. She laughed; he imagined her shaking her head. "Daddy, wait. Look, I just wanted to see if she was feeling any better," she paused, her tone sobering. "It's got to be hard on her."
"Will you tell her I called? You don't have to tell her why, and I won't bring up the miscarriage, but I just want to see if she'll call back. Levi doesn't understand why he hasn't seen her, and he's antsy," she explained calmly.
"Yeah, Kel, I'll tell her."
"Okay. I'll see you later, Daddy. 'Bye."
She hung up. Kelly was good about ending the conversation when the conversation was over, as opposed to drawing it out incessantly. He shut off the phone and tossed it onto the counter. He slipped a sander over his knuckles, returning to woodwork as a means of working out the kinks, and trying to figure out a way to help Jenny to move on, and take her mind off of this.
Jenny was peppered with white snowflakes and slightly wet because of it when she returned in the afternoon. She was quiet, her cheeks and nose were flushed, and he thought she looked better. Her first inclination was to run a steaming bubble bath.
She took with her a candle and a glass of wine, odd touches for a late afternoon bath. He moseyed around the kitchen trying to brainstorm something for supper before he made an executive decision in favor of Chinese, grabbed a tumbler of bourbon and the Sunday paper, and flipped through it uninterestedly.
Jenny yelled serenely for him after a quarter of an hour, and he wandered into the bathroom on invitation, assaulted by the vanilla candle and honey of the bath soap. She looked relaxed; she looked better.
He dropped to the floor next to the bathtub, stretching out on a towel so he was looking at her. She flipped up her hand on the side of the tub and he slipped his into it, lacing his fingers through her soapy warm ones.
She smiled a small smile at him and leaned her head back on the tile, ultimately looking away.
It was nice. It was the first time he hadn't felt on edge. She seemed calm, as if she were feeling much less stressed and guilty. He massaged the pulse point on her wrist with his thumb, watching her breathe in and out.
She took a drink of the wine slowly. He set his bourbon on the floor next to his thigh, his palm flat on the floor next to it.
Jenny squeezed his hand and he looked at her patiently, waiting for her to speak. She stared at the dark, blood red wine in her crystal glass and bit her lip softly, lowering her hand after a moment.
"The doctor couldn't tell me whether it was a boy or a girl," she said calmly, her voice only slightly unsteady. "I didn't ask. At seven weeks, though…" she didn't have to finish the sentence.
She sighed, stared at her wine, took another drink, and then licked her lower lip thoughtfully.
"I think the worst of it is I kept—keep—thinking about Peter. In that hospital, I was uncomfortable and I knew I was going to lose…it, and I just kept seeing Peter's face. His eyes, his smile," she paused, rubbing her glass comfortingly with her thumb.
She tilted her head and eyes to the ceiling.
"It is preposterous to be this devastated. It happened so fast, and I was none the wiser," she broke off, her brow furrowing. She swallowed hard. "But I keep thinking of Peter, and I think it hits so hard because I know what I lost," she mused tremulously.
Jethro took a steadying swallow of his bourbon, content to listen, as that was clearly what she'd wanted if she called him in here to sit with her. He usually had to push to get her to do this, and he usually didn't push at all.
He was glad she trusted this to him. He didn't want her to feel like she had to suffer alone because he didn't like forcing anyone to open up. He chose not to say anything.
Jenny tilted her head forward and took another contemplative sip of wine, her eyes red, he now noticed. He suspected she'd been crying in the car or before he came in here. She didn't quit look at him.
"I have decided I'm not going to get over it very fast," she said quietly.
He narrowed his eyes at her, looking at her intently, and leaned forward, closer to her, drawing his knees up a little.
"There isn't a timeline, Jen."
She looked over at him and gripped his hand tightly, leaning forward a little so her hair tumbled over her shoulders.
"I've been selfish, Jethro," she repented in a low voice. "It was your baby, too."
He looked down at her hand and brushed his thumb over her knuckles. He had been blocking that thought pretty effectively from his mind. When Shannon had been pregnant with Kelly, having a baby, being a father, hadn't been a reality for him until Kelly was placed in his arms for the first time, but it had been for Shannon from day one.
He was on par with Jenny in this situation, and he didn't like the hollow feeling it gave him. Having raised Kelly, and been a father, he knew what had been lost too, and he hated that Jenny had to go through it.
She set her wine glass on the edge of the tub and sank down in the water, immersing herself under. When she came back up she was covered in bubbles and her hair was soaked so it matched the colour of the wine.
He smirked and drank his bourbon while she brushed her hair out of her face. He ran his hand up his arm, tugged her towards him a little, and kissed her gently, not minding in the least when the water from her hair showered him.
He felt her smile a little more genuinely, and she pressed her lips against his cheek, twisting her hand into his wet t-shirt.
Jenny bent over the counter next to him, perusing her favorite Chinese place's menu silently.
Jethro was glad she was occupied, because he was hatching a plan. Something had caught his eye in the newspaper and given him an idea. She was fresh from her bath, quiet but much better, and he was concocting plots.
She snorted and lifted her menu.
"My usual," she announced. "Ah, I forget this place doesn't deliver to us, I'll—"
"No," he interrupted quickly. "No, Jenny, I'll go," he said, taking the menu. She didn't have to tell him her 'usual', he knew it by heart. She shrugged mildly.
"My chivalrous husband," she mocked lightly, glancing boredly at the paper.
Jethro gave her a suspicious look, as if she could read his secret plan in his mind. He patted his pocket for his keys and narrowed his eyes at the paper again; memorizing the number he'd seen. He made sure he had his phone and grabbed his coat.
"Jen," he called from the front door.
"Yes, brave knight?"
"Kelly called," he said neutrally, keeping his promise to his daughter and Jen's employee. "Said Levi misses you."
He hadn't quite meant to say the last part, and he winced after he did, particularly as it didn't garner a response right away.
"Of course he does," Jenny answered after a moment, her witty, sarcastic tone firmly in place. "He's stuck in a house with the Mommy and Daddy McKissyFace."
Jethro snorted and shook his head, shouting a quick goodbye before went out into the cold in search of Chinese food. He dialed the number he'd memorized and put the phone to his ear…
It was after dark when he got back, and Jenny, wondering where the hell he could be, had finishes lacquering her toenails with a dark coat of emerald when she heard him barge into the hallway, making quite the commotion.
Her cell phone was sitting next to her, a gloomy reminder of the conversation she'd had with Kelly. She admired her nails, forgetting about Kelly.
"I am quite happily aware that you enslave yourself to my superior being, but you were not required to actually go to China to retrieve my food," she informed him sarcastically, arching an eyebrow.
"Shhh," she heard him growl, and something like a squeak, and rustling of paper, and whining.
She was beginning to get a little concerned.
Jethro personally was trying to stay subtle. Judging from Jenny's posture, as he could see from where he stood, she wasn't in as relaxed a mood as she'd been when he left. He glared and growled menacingly again as he approached her.
"You better not be talking to me, Jethro," she warned suddenly, her voice sharp.
"Dammit," he responded gruffly after a moment, his voice closer. Jenny became seriously concerned about his sanity and suspicious about him in general, and started to turn around just as he rounded the touch.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs was presently struggling to hold on to a squirming little excited Golden Retriever puppy, the culprit of the squeak and the causation of Jethro's cursing. Jenny paused, her lips parted, tilting her head at the fur ball. It barked at her.
Jethro sat down next to her and gently placed the puppy in her lap. Jenny reached down and buried her hands in its soft fur immediately, lifting it closer. It wriggled in her arms and she smiled, a smile breaking over her face.
"You bought me a puppy?" she asked, scratching its ears. Her eyebrows went up in delight when it cocked its head at her and whined excitedly.
"Nah, just leased it for a few hours," he responded deadpan, smirking at her reaction. It had been days since he saw such a genuine smile on her face. It even touched her eyes and cheeks.
The redhead ignored his sardonic jibe, her focus on the puppy.
"This is quite possibly the cutest thing anyone has ever done for me," she said wryly, earning a gruff roll of the eye from him.
She bit her lip as she bent her nose closer to the puppy Jethro had given her, looking into its big, friendly, liquid brown eyes and running her hands over it. It was so utterly Jethro, to just go out and buy a puppy in an effort to cheer her up. She knew how much he hated seeing her upset.
"He was the last one," Jethro said impassively. "Runt."
The puppy licked Jenny's cheek, and gave a few quiet little barks, tumbling over onto its back in her lap. She laughed, and bit her lip, rubbing its belly gently and looking over at Jethro. He was watching her play with the puppy, but glanced up when he sensed her gaze.
"I know he doesn't replace—"
She shook her head, effectively stopping what he would have said. She smiled softly.
"It never ceases to astonish me," she said slowly, with a shrug, "that your ability to make me stop hurting is infallible."
He snorted skeptically. He sure as hell didn't feel like he took away all her pain; where was the proof in that when he still had to watch her cry?
Jethro shrugged nonchalantly and watched her hands as she stroked the puppy, holding it close to her. It wagged its tail and continued whining and squeaking happily.
"My intentions aren't that pure, Jen," he said mildly, tugging playfully on the pup's tail. It growled at him. "The puppy is collateral for sex."
Jenny tilted her head back and laughed.
"Don't you give me that malarkey, you massive closet romantic," she said, jabbing him with her elbow. She snatched up the puppy and held it to her cheek, rubbing her nose into its silky fur adoringly.
"He's a grouchy old man," she murmured to it slyly. She shot him a wicked look over the puppy's floppy ears, a look he had missed a lot since he took her to the hospital. She kissed the puppy's head.
"He is to be christened 'Malarkey'," she announced sweetly. "To ever remind you that you're full of it when you claim you don't care about me."
He snorted sarcastically, giving the side of her head a sharp glare. She held the puppy up and pressed its nose into his cheek, smirking at the look on his face. It growled at him softly, cocking its head playfully. Malarkey. He had to stop mentally referring to it as 'it'.
"You did bring Chinese to complement the puppy, correct?"
"He tried to eat it," growled Jethro menacingly.
Jenny smiled. She cradled the puppy half-heartedly and let it walk around on her lap and over Jethro's, exploring. She tilted her head absently at the phone.
"I called The Stepdaughter," she said neutrally. He raised an eyebrow silently, waiting for her to say something (or not say something). Her mouth softened a little. She didn't say anything else, and Jethro took it to mean that was the reason she'd been rather upset when he got home.
She leaned over and curled up to him, resting her head against his shoulder, and snatched up Malarkey before he could pounce on a throw pillow. She settled him in Jethro's lap and let him bite her fingers, wriggling them at him menacingly.
"I will take another sick day," she said calmly, surprising him out of the blue. "DiNozzo's wrapping up a case involving a dead kid; Kelly warned me off."
Jethro ran his hand lightly through her hair.
"Jen, if you want to chuck that birth control in the trash," he let the sentence hang. She shook her head even before he finished the sentence.
"Let's see if we can raise the damn puppy, hmmm, Jethro?"
He smirked. He sensed she was more than reluctant to ever try her hand at having a baby again. She was aware of too much risk now. She stroked Malarkey's head admiringly and wrinkled her nose at him cutely, pressing a thankful kiss to Jethro's shoulder.
"I am waiting for my Chinese feast to magically appear in front of me, Cowboy," she announced pointedly.
Jethro grinned, and dumped the squirming Malarkey on her unceremoniously. It was good to have her smart ass mouth back. It said she was healing.
Only in their marriage could the outcome of such tragedy as a miscarriage be such sarcasm as Malarkey.
I'm aware that the title of this piece is (sickeningly) ironic and quite possible too blunt. I do have a fondness for it though, and LB/SF is sort of characterized by bluntness.
With that, it is over, Finis, Good night, and Good Luck:)