Hello friends! It's been a long time! I confess it's been a busy few months and I have just not had the time, or inclination, to write. However, I recently forced myself back into the writing groove so that's one thing to celebrate. This story was rescued from the "unfinished" docs file on my computer, dusted off a bit, and finished. It's my take on Jeanne-and-Tony-meet-again story, because, well, I don't think that's something I'll ever get tired of reading or writing, when done well. Don't think this means she will never pop up in a story of mine again...as she was written on the show, there's just too many blank spaces for her not to be a fun character to flesh out. Hope this take on it is enjoyable! I promise to do my best to be back again soon; I do have a few things in the cooker, so it shouldn't be too long!
Spoilers: None, really, except Jeanne's general existence. HOWEVER I did set this story far into the future of my Tangled Up universe. So though you need not have read Tether/Tangled Up to understand this story, this spoils the end of Tangled Up in a major way.
Thanks, as always, to Ana for the reading and encouragement! You're the bestest!
Arborio rice. This horrible, god-forsaken grocery store has to sell Arborio rice.
Dr. Jeanne Benoit-Keene scans the rice selection for the elusive product, letting out a frustrated groan when she comes up empty yet again. She tries to ignore the flare of pain in her back and the throbbing of her feet. She contemplates just giving up and surrendering in the middle of aisle six.
Looking back and forth between her cart and her shopping list, she mentally checks off every other item on her list. She just needs the damn rice. One box of Arborio rice and she can get the hell out of here. She cringes as a women ambles past her, her shopping cart overflowing with frozen pizzas, frozen chicken wings, frozen burritos and beer. Though she questions the nutritional value of the selections, she envies the efficiency of such meals. Even she can cook a frozen pizza without incident. Maybe.
Shaking her head, Jeanne resumes her quest for her missing main course.
Will the long grain rice work instead? Short grain? She feels a headache forming behind her eyes. The recipe calls for Arborio rice and she's not going to risk substituting anything else. She squints at the boxes on display. She should've told Brent the check up went poorly. She should've lied and said Dr. Schaffer recommended as much rest as possible. At least then she could've spent the evening soaking in a hot bath and catching up on her trashy magazines rather than sweating over a business dinner. She could've lain around in her pajamas instead of getting all dressed up for Brent's coworkers and spending the evening worrying that she overcooked the risotto once again.
If only Brent would've let her cater the dinner. It is not her fault the other partners' wives are all Martha friggin' Stewart wannabes. Does that mean she has to be too? Do any of the other wives still work forty hours a week as they gestate a fetus in their womb? Or are their schedules too full trying to coordinate with their nannies the best time to get a manicure? So she can't cook. Big deal. What is the point when a better meal is always a phone call away?
Finally locating the rice she needs, and ignoring the fact that the brands the grocery store carries are made domestically and not imported from Italy, Jeanne tosses the item in her cart and does a final once over of her list. She hates this grocery store and its limited rice selection and the way it keeps baking supplies in aisle five instead of cereal. There is hardly any organic produce worth buying and its international food selection is sorely lacking. Those bitchy wives will just have to pretend her rice from Texas tastes the same as risotto made from imported Italian grain.
This is what she gets for following her obstetrician to his new practice in the D.C. suburbs—a longer commute to appointments and random, last-minute stops at itch-inducing suburban grocery store chains. Is a Whole Foods really too much to ask for?
With the ridiculously long checkout lines in sight, Jeanne is set to begin her final approach to freedom when suddenly a child comes blazing down the aisle. The young girl hardly stops to acknowledge the obstacle Jeanne presents before swerving around her cart and lunging for the boxed macaroni and cheese section. Jeanne looks up in alarm, heart racing at the near-collision. She tenses, waiting for the screaming parent that should be chasing after the wayward girl but no one follows.
"I will not eat bunnies! I will not eat bunnies!" The girl stomps her foot and tosses the box clutched tightly in her hands at the display. Jeanne's eyebrows lift as the girl misses on her first toss, picks the box up and tries to throw it again. Where are this girl's parents? She doesn't look like a lost child or the victim of a negligent parent. She's wearing a soccer uniform, a neon yellow jersey that declares her a member of the Lightning, black knee socks, and grass-stained knees. Her dark hair is pulled back into two perfect braids. She is a darling girl, seemingly well taken care of…but clearly has some issues with aggression.
"Daddy will not make me eat you, little bunnies," the girl says solemnly, having given up on trying to punt the box back into its place and instead hugs it lovingly to her small body.
"Um, honey?" Jeanne starts to ask, concerned for the child. Her mother is probably frantically searching for her somewhere else in the store.
Before she can get the girl's attention, however, a loud voice sounds from behind.
"Sadie Rose! What were you thinking running off like that?"
It is the familiar voice that makes Jeanne freeze. Maybe if she doesn't turn around, her worst fear won't be confirmed.
Yet another reason why she never ventures into the suburbs. Bad things happen here.
Jeanne keeps her eyes focused on the little girl, Sadie Rose. Sadie, too, stops dead in her tracks at the voice, her big brown eyes going wide in panic. Jeanne hears him approach long before she sees him; she stands in rapt attention as he jogs past her, completely focused on the little girl in front of the instant macaroni display.
"Sadie, you cannot run off like that. You know better than that," his voice is much softer this time and Jeanne cannot tear her eyes away from the sight before her, even if it is more gruesome than any ER patient she's seen. Because not five feet away from her, the man who lied to her and broke her heart only seven years ago is kneeling before his daughter, imploring her to look into his eyes, and speaking in a tone she has never heard before.
"But you wanted me to eat the bunnies," Sadie protests, shoving the brightly colored box of rabbit-shaped macaroni and cheese in Tony's face. "I will not eat the bunnies!"
Jeanne knows this is her chance to sneak away, when Tony's attention is so completely wrapped up in his recovered daughter. But the sight is irresistible: Tony DiNardo, no, DiNozzo, unfairly looking only better with a few more years on him, managing to look both angry at his little girl's behavior and hurt that he is being accused of forcefully feeding his child cute animals.
"But you I thought you liked bunnies," is all he says in response, removing the box from the girl's clutches. He places it back in its designated spot.
"I do, Daddy," Sadie whines, her lower lip forming a pout. Jeanne recognizes those lips. She couldn't move now if she wanted to. A familiar pang strikes her heart; no woman should have to see this, she thinks. No woman should have to watch the man she once envisioned having children with, the man who smashed her heart into a thousand pieces, talking with his child so sweetly.
"I do love bunnies, Daddy," Sadie insists again, "but I do not want to eat them."
Tony knits his brow at the logic. "Hmm. I see." He shares a serious look with his daughter. "Well, then…" he runs his fingers along a few boxes. "How about spirals or dinosaurs?"
The little girl tilts her head in consideration. "Dinosaurs." She reaches out to grab the box, but Tony stops her with a look.
"Nope. Not until you promise me you will never run off like that again. You scare Daddy when you do that, sweetpea," Tony finishes his bargaining with a familiar puppy dog face.
Sadie nods solemnly. "I promise."
"Good girl," Tony says and hands her the box. Then he scoops her up into his arms and turns around.
Jeanne tries to hide behind her cart. She regrets not making a mad dash for the exit.
"Jeanne," Tony says, surprise ringing in his voice.
"Hi, Tony," she replies, impressed with the coolness of her response. Sadie narrows her eyes at Jeanne. Jeanne never knew little girls could have such venom in their stare.
"Who are you?" Sadie asks, her arms clutched protectively around her father's neck. Jeanne fights back the urge to rise to the girl's challenge.
"Sadie," Tony scolds, tugging teasingly on the end of a braid. "That is not how we talk to people. You know better than that."
Sadie pouts and hides her face. Tony turns to Jeanne, sheepish. Damn him and that schoolboy expression, she thinks. Nearly a decade later and it still makes her stomach flip.
"Sorry 'bout that," he shrugs. "Sadie isn't exactly a fan of strangers. We're working on the whole act nice even if you don't feel nice thing."
"Oh. Deception. Right up your alley." The words fly out of her mouth before she can stop them. She wasn't prepared to see Tony today, or ever again really, and hasn't had time to plug the well of anger that still runs so deep.
Tony has the grace to look ashamed. "I…uh…" he fumbles for a beat. Then, seeing no exit, he sighs and says, "yeah."
She bites her lip and envisions herself turning tail and running for the door. Except in her current, massive state waddling is the fastest she goes and she still has to make the fucking risotto tonight.
She reminds herself to have some dignity.
Tony glances down at his daughter who, seemingly picking up on the tension, has fallen still save for the one hand that worries at the collar of her dad's shirt. Father gives daughter a comforting rub on her back and Jeanne wonders why it all had to go down like this. Seven years. It's been seven years since Tony DiNardo disappeared from her life leaving nothing but destruction and confusion in his wake. Life as she knew it had ended and it was all his fault. And though she has spent the last seven years questioning and learning and changing and moving on, it doesn't matter. No friend or therapist or mother can tell her otherwise: Tony DiNozzo deserves every bit of her hatred.
Especially since there are pieces of her that could never hate him at all.
And what? Is she now supposed to forgive and forget, offer him a fake smile and a quick wave to indicate it is all in the past because from a purely visual perspective they've both so clearly moved on?
She didn't miss the way he'd glanced down at her pregnant belly in relief and became even more comfortable when he saw the three-carat diamond on her finger. Yes, that means she's moved on and, as anyone would tell her, moved up…but screw him if he thinks she's gotten over any of it. If he thinks she wouldn't unleash years of pent up anger just because he's holding his adorable daughter in his arms. If he thinks she's just going to let it all go, then he never really knew her.
That's the injustice of it all. He knew her so well and she clearly, clearly had no idea. Not a clue.
Because now here he is with an adorable daughter who can't be younger than four and most definitely seems closer to five. So, what, barely a year went by after they broke up before he started a family? She shouldn't be surprised. He admitted it was all a lie and yet…
And yet she really wanted to believe that at least something was real. Because if even one small part of his lies were truth then that means she didn't fall in love with an illusion. That she wasn't so completely and utterly manipulated. That she wasn't a total fool.
"So, uh, things are going well for you, I see," Tony breaks the prolonged silence that has fallen over the pasta and rice section. He nods at her belly and Jeanne's hand covers it protectively.
She swallows back the words she really wants to say, her ire taking a back seat to self-preservation. As much as she wants to be the one comfortable with making a scene in the middle of a family-friendly grocery store, she has never been that person. "Yes. I'm due at the end of June. My first."
He nods, smile curving his lips. "Congratulations, Jeanne."
"It wasn't an easy road to get here, but my husband Brent and I could not be happier." As the words leave her lips, she realizes how empty they sound. She's thankful she doesn't elaborate on her struggles to this point; she hates that she's trying to manipulate his emotions as it is. But she wants him to feel bad, to regret, because the way he's looking at her right now…
"That's great. You look happy. You look good."
He's looking at her like he cares. Like he is genuinely pleased to see that she's in a good place. Not solely for his own benefit, but because he truly wants the best for her.
Why is it so easy for him? It's not fair.
"And you?" She chokes out, determined to join him on the high road.
That seems to startle him. He clears his throat. "Well! This is Sadie, our oldest. She's…" He turns to the girl and jostles her a bit in his arms. She perks up, glad to be attended to once again. "How old are you again, bug?"
Sadie uses her whole body to dramatically roll her eyes. "Daaaad, you know that I'm five. Remember my pirate birthday party? You were there!"
Tony smacks his forehead. "Oh! Duh! How could I forget that awesome treasure hunt?"
Jeanne gives up a grin when Sadie turns to her for support, a perfectly put-upon expression on her face.
"You helped me find the treasure!" Sadie adds with a wave of her hand. Jeanne laughs, the sound wrenched from her against her will. She blames the hormones.
"Right. Yes." Tony shakes his head at himself then, eyes bright with mischief, turns back to Jeanne and continues, "Sadie is five and Joshua just turned a year old."
"He had an Elmo birthday party," Sadie supplies. Jeanne pretends to be interested in that information.
"Five, huh?" Jeanne can't resist poking. She struggles to keep her voice even. "That's…you're a big girl, Sadie."
Tony finally looks uncomfortable, leveled under her gaze. He shifts Sadie on his hip.
"Yeah, listen, Jeanne—
Before he can finish, a woman rolls her cart up next to Tony and Sadie. Undoubtedly this is Tony's wife. She is undeniably beautiful, her long, dark hair falling in natural waves around a flawless face. Jeanne can't help the pang of irrational jealously that strikes her as she realizes this woman is everything she is not. Her style is simple and practical but somehow she still conveys an easy elegance- the luxury of someone blessed with an exotic beauty. Sadie's resemblance to this woman is clear; also apparent is where Sadie learned such a look of exasperation, for that is the same expression on the woman's face at present.
"Ziva! Hey!" Tony practically yelps in relief.
"Mommy!" Sadie shouts, squirming out of her dad's hold and rushing to hug her mother's leg. The woman bends slightly to squeeze Sadie's shoulder and at the same time struggles to remove a box of linguini from the toddler seated in the cart. The little boy, Joshua she presumes, has the box in an iron grip. Joshua's wide, light eyes turn from his loot to his sister as a toothy grin erupts on his face. Jeanne has seen that same expression a hundred times before on Tony's face.
Jeanne is too busy watching the chaotic moment to realize that Tony's wife has a piercing gaze fixated on her. Once aware of it, Jeanne shifts uncomfortably.
Tony hurries to intervene. "Ziva, this is—
"Dr. Jeanne Benoit," Ziva finishes, expression inscrutable.
"Dr. Keene, now, actually," Jeanne corrects, standing taller. She narrows her eyes at the woman. "I'm sorry, have we met before?"
"Actually, you may have met when you came into NCIS that one time? You know, to accuse me of…." Tony glances down at his children, catching himself. "…that thing that I did not do?"
Jeanne tries to keep her expression neutral as her anxiety level rises. Right. The one thing she did that she regrets as her life erupted in crisis. The one thing she will take the blame for in the whole debacle and now she's being punished for it again?
"Ziva was my partner. Back then. Now she's my wife." Tony scrubs at his neck and looks worriedly between former and current lovers.
"That's lovely. Nice to meet you," Jeanne says, not meaning a word. Too many thoughts are running through her mind now—she was his partner, presumably all along. Ziva knew about her. Did they speak of her? Did Tony leave Jeanne's bed for Ziva's? Did Ziva laugh over the silly delusions of love Jeanne had? It's all too horrible to contemplate.
A sudden cry from baby Joshua earns all of their attention. With a small smile lighting her features, Ziva leans down to attend to him as Tony looks on, content. And when Sadie sees that all it takes to get three pairs of eyes on her is a screech, she responds in kind. Then together Tony and Ziva handle their children, a seamless unit, and she is on the outside, standing lamely at her cart.
"It is nearly time for Joshua's nap," Ziva announces, having distracted the child with a toy. She first takes the long forgotten box of instant dinosaur-shaped macaroni out of Tony's hand and dumps it in the cart and then gently guides Sadie to follow her by touching her back.
Tony remains still, unsure what move to make.
"We will meet you at the checkout in a few minutes," Ziva makes the decision for him. The unspoken conversation between them is impossible to translate. Jeanne studies the items in her cart. She's suddenly looking forward to tackling her risotto.
"Congratulations on the baby, Dr. Keene," Ziva says as she passes, eyes shining with sincerity. Jeanne does her best to accept her remark without scowling.
Silence reigns as Tony watches his family go. Jeanne takes some satisfaction at the clear discomfort he expresses.
"She seems nice," Jeanne says, fingers tightly gripping her cart.
Tony visibly relaxes at her overture, an easy smile on his face. Jeanne squeezes the cart harder. "Ziva? Yeah, nice isn't exactly the word I would use to describe her."
"Oh?" Jeanne replies stiffly.
Warming to the topic, Tony barely looks at her as he continues. "Don't get me wrong, she's a good person, of course, but nice?" He chuckles. "Only if she's trying to distract you while she's poisoning your drink!"
Jeanne's mouth drops open at this.
Realizing his faux pas, Tony is quick to correct himself, "Not that she would do that. Anymore. I mean—
"I get it," Jeanne cuts him off, not really getting it but not wanting to hear anymore of this strange line of conversation.
"She's former Mossad," he adds.
"Got it." Jeanne looks desperately around for another kamikaze child to save her from this conversation. No such luck.
Tony clears his throat. "Listen, Jeanne…"
"No, you listen, Tony," Jeanne hisses, finally allowing her rage to bubble over. "I don't want to do this. This isn't just another run of the mill, awkward encounter with an ex for me. You don't get to just scurry back to your wife and family and forget all about me. You broke my heart. You ruined my life. Do you know how long it took for me to be able to trust anyone again? Do you?"
Taking a moment to breathe, Jeanne feels only slightly guiltily for the broken expression on Tony's face.
"No," he states and steels himself for more of her ranting.
Startled by his acceptance of her blame, Jeanne loses most of her steam. She continues, but with less fire in her tone, "You hurt me. More than I ever thought possible. You used me. To you it was just a job, but it was my life."
"I know," Tony insists and the darkness in his eyes makes her shudder. "You may not believe me, but I truly am sorry, Jeanne. For everything."
Blinking back the sudden wetness in her eyes, Jeanne just shrugs. "It's a little too late for apologies now."
Tony shuffles his feet and sighs.
"I should be going," she insists. She opens her mouth to say more, but has no words prepared so she purses her lips instead. With that, she wills her swollen body to move quickly down the aisle and away from Tony. She has nothing more to say to him. Not anything that will matter now at least.
"Jeanne." Her name is said in that same breathless way she heard many times during their relationship. He would use that tone, say her name like that, whenever they were on the balancing on that precarious edge of something more and nothing at all, when it took her using every trick she had ever learned to push Tony to the side of something more. She cringes when he touches her arm.
He retreats physically, but still speaks, "You deserve so much better than I ever gave you. Know that."
She closes her eyes and pushes forward. "Goodbye, Tony."
"Goodbye, Jeanne," he replies, defeated, as he lets her go ahead.
Tears cloud her vision as she searches for the shortest checkout line in the mass of busy families and overflowing carts. Fate smiles upon her for once and a new line opens up, the middle-aged woman working the checkout beckoning her over with a kind smile.
A few minutes later, she is loading her bags into her Lexus when she catches sight of Tony once again. She watches as the happy family strolls to their modest SUV in the next row of the parking lot. Sadie is skipping as she holds her mother's hand; Ziva looks down at her in amusement, occasionally tugging the dawdling girl along. Tony is pushing their full cart, leaning down every few steps to make a silly face at Joshua. Jeanne swallows back a lump in her throat as she watches the scene unfold. Tony starts to unload their groceries into the car and Ziva sees to strapping the kids into their car seats. Tasks completed, the couple reunites empty-handed at the back of their vehicle. There's a moment where all Jeanne can see is Ziva's face and the hand she places on Tony's forearm in concern.
They are talking about her. That much is apparent. Jeanne feels her face start to burn but she can't avert her eyes.
She can't see Tony's face as he speaks, but she can see the arm that lifts to rub his eyes. Ziva's expression is one of empathy and concern. A moment later, something Tony says makes a grin emerge on Ziva's face and she rises on her tiptoes to whisper something in his ear. Her grin turns devilish and, as Tony turns to her, his own mischievous smirk is visible in profile. Then Tony kisses Ziva's cheek, quickly and chastely. Ziva responds by grabbing his ass. With a shared laugh, they divide and get into their SUV. And just like that, they move on. Her surprise appearance in their lives causing nothing more than a blip of tension in an otherwise idyllic life.
Jeanne stands unmoving as she watches them back out of their parking space and drive away.
Swiping at the tears that have never quite fallen from her eyes, she slams her trunk shut and gets in her car. She pulls out her cell phone and hits the first speed dial.
Brent answers on the fourth ring.
"Sweetie! I was just thinking of you. How'd the appointment go?"
Jeanne takes a quick breath and revels in the familiar deep voice. "The appointment was fine. Everything looks good."
"Great. Wonderful. Are you home yet?" She can hear the scratch of Brent's pen through the line. She imagines him sitting at his desk, phone tucked into his chin as he plows through the disorganized mess before him.
"No…I, uh…I am just leaving the grocery store." She pauses. "I ran into Tony. Tony DiNardo. DiNozzo. Whatever."
Her husband inhales sharply. His pen stops. "And how was that?"
Jeanne pinches the bridge of her nose. "It was…awful, awkward…and yet not as bad as I thought, I guess."
"He's married. With kids."
She knows Brent is trying to think of the perfect words to say because in his mind the right words can fix anything. But he's never been that great at spontaneous emotion and for that she is grateful. She trusts his clumsy platitudes. "I'm sorry I wasn't there. I would've kicked his ass for you, darling."
She laughs, feeling some of the emotional weight lift off her shoulders. Right. Her husband, the state champion of debate in his high school days, would really fare well against a trained federal agent. And his apparently homicidal wife.
"Thank you, Brent," she smiles. Then yawns. Loudly.
"Exhausted. But I still have to drive home, unload the groceries, start dinner, and I could really use a long, hot bath. My back is killing me today." She lets the stress of the day creep into her voice. Brent starts to hum with concern. She can almost hear him thinking.
"If you're not feeling up to it, I suppose I can call Randall and reschedule…"
"Oh, no, you don't need to do that," Jeanne insists. "I'll be okay once I get home and decompress a bit. It's more so the thought of attempting the risotto again."
"Tell you what, sweetie," Brent begins, the tone of his voice suggesting he's just had a unique and brilliant idea. Jeanne bites back a smile. "How about I call Sam at Caro Mio and see if he can whip up some dinner for the group? I could pick it up on my way home. I'm sure he won't mind, considering you're his favorite customer."
"Sounds lovely." Jeanne gives a silent cheer. "Ask if he can do the gnocchi gratinati."
"Sure thing," Brent promises. "Well, I'm sorry, gorgeous, but I have to run if I want to get out of here on time. Will you be okay? We can talk when I get home."
Nodding into the phone, Jeanne says a quick goodbye to her husband before hanging up. Then, she exhales. Already she feels less anxious and angry and more…content.
She urges her brain away from images of Tony and his family. Instead, she focuses on Brent and the life they have embarked on together. She imagines their night ahead: how much she loves to watch Brent dazzle the room with his gift for rhetoric, the envious looks the other wives will give her designer maternity dress and killer heels. It won't matter that their dinner was catered or that she kicks the guests out early so she can fall asleep on the couch to the drone of late night television and Brent tapping away on his laptop. She doesn't care what anyone thinks because after all the crap she's been through in her life, she's at least happy with it now.
This is the picture perfect life she has always wanted for herself and she wouldn't trade it for anything.
Maybe today she didn't get to say to Tony all the hateful words she had stored up over the years. It certainly wasn't the triumphant showdown she'd always hoped to have, her moment to finally come out on top of the whole mess. But…that's okay. She's okay with that.
It's been seven years. Maybe it's time to let go.
The end. Let me know what you thought! :-) Thanks for reading!