A/N: This was written for Addicted2Me for the Secret Santa exchange on NFA. It's Christmas, and it's Jibbs! The title is a song by Glasvegas.
Jenny Shepard had always loved snow. As a child, the first snow of the season was very possible one of her favourite events of the entire year. She'd wake up one morning and find that the world had changed; it had been clothed in a white, glimmering blanket that made everything look beautiful and soft. She'd rush down the stairs, grab her boots and perhaps a jacket and was out of the front door before her mother had a chance to stop her to get her appropriately dressed. She knew she'd be yelled at, knew her mother would blame this moment for the cold she'd catch a few days later, but Jenny never cared. It was the sheer magic of seeing the world so brilliant and inviting and hearing the soft crunch of the snow beneath her soles and the feeling of a snowflake melt on the back of her naked hand that made it worth the coughing and the runny nose.
As she grew older, she would spent the night of the first snow out on her balcony, wrapped tightly in a blanket and clutching a cup of hot chocolate and watch the world slowly transform.
Jenny Shepard stood by the window, a cup of tea from which a strong, spicy aroma was emanating trapped securely in her hands, and she watched how the dense blackness of the December night slowly began to brighten by the quiet descending of the first snowfall. She watched the flakes whirl and dance past the window on which frost was forming intricate and fragile patterns.
The room behind her was warmly illuminated by candlelight, the vanilla and cinnamon scents of the candles quickly filling the room. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling that washed over her.
She heard soft footsteps coming closer behind her, and in the glass she saw the reflection of Ziva David next to her own. The younger woman carried two glasses of red wine in her hands, and she offered one of them to Jenny.
"Thank you," she said, placing her still half-full teacup on the windowsill and instead accepting the wineglass. Ziva glanced sideways at her friend, and tucked a lock of her brown hair behind her ear.
Jenny was still watching the snow as she said, "Thank you for inviting me over, Ziva."
It was an ordinary Friday in December, and Ziva had very skilfully persuaded Jenny to leave her still unfinished paperwork at the office and come over for dinner. Jenny had protested only half-heartedly; the thought of spending an evening in the company of a good friend (who she hadn't been able to spend much time with lately and who cooked great food) had been so tempting she soon found herself accepting the invite – and when she returned to her office she'd realised a smile was playing on her lips.
Ziva smiled warmly. "I am glad you decided to come," she said and reached out to clink her glass against Jenny's. Jenny sipped her wine and gave her friend a smile of appreciation. She turned her gaze back out the window and Ziva hurried back to the kitchen as the timer went of.
Jenny tore her gaze from the snowfall outside and let her eyes sweep Ziva's apartment. It was beautiful in its simplicity and tidiness – very much like she had imagined Ziva living. She had not been here before, and she felt guilty when she thought about how little time she'd spent with her friend since she'd brought her to the agency. Watching Ziva move about in the kitchen, she was almost ashamed she had not done more to maintain their friendship. Once or twice she'd thought about asking her over for dinner, but busy as she was with the constant heavy workload and dinners to attend and boring dates with boring politicians, it never became more than a nice thought.
She put the glass to her lips and took a long sip of the wine, relishing in the feeling of the alcoholic liquid sliding down her throat. In a moment of alcohol-induced realisation, it became clear to her how much she'd had to sacrifice to get herself to the top. Not only friendship and love; she could barely remember the last time she'd taken her time to enjoy the first snowfall – something she'd loved doing since she was a child, she suddenly didn't seem to have time for anymore.
Ziva's cheerful announcement that dinner was ready roused her from her thoughts, and she managed a smile as she walked over to the beautifully set table.
Ziva threw a quick look at her guest, and said, "Are you ok?" Though Jenny's movements were flawlessly under control and the smile on her lips looking genuine enough that no one would suspect the opposite, the emotions in the depth of her eyes betrayed her carefully controlled mask.
"I'm fine," Jenny said quickly. "It looks delicious, Ziva," she added, peering into the casserole Ziva had just put down on the table.
Ziva eyed her suspiciously for a second, knew she lied but if she didn't want to talk, she wouldn't force her. Yet.
The dinner was exquisite. The first few minutes of awkwardness quickly ebbed away as Ziva initiated a light-hearted conversation that quickly had Jenny smiling and even laughing genuinely.
Jenny couldn't remember the last time she had enjoyed herself this much. It was getting late when Ziva suggested they'd take a walk. Maybe it was because she had just drunk half a bottle of wine, but Jenny thought that sounded like a delightful idea.
Jenny's breath turned to steam the instant it came in contact with the cold midwinter air. It had snowed all evening, so now everything was covered in a several inches thick white blanket. She breathed in the air, cold and crisp. Large, fluffy snowflakes were still falling quietly, peacefully. They landed in her hair and on her coat and on the bare back of her hand, where it melted instantly. She stared at the tiny wet spot on her skin, a faint smile on her lips at the memories it evoked.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
Jenny lifted her head hastily at the sound of Ziva's voice; she hadn't noticed her coming outside. She must have stood there a while, because her dark hair was littered with snowflakes that sparkled there like tiny diamonds. Ziva watched her curiously as she lowered her outstretched hand upon which several more flakes had met their fate.
"Let's go," said Jenny, the damp skin on her hand now tingling with cold. She was busy slipping on her gloves as Ziva came up to her and they fell into a comfortable pace walking next to each other through the snowfall.
"I love the snow," Jenny suddenly said after a long silence. They had walked down several streets and she had been uncomfortably aware of Ziva's eyes on her the entire time.
Ziva stayed silent, waiting for her to continue. After a short while, she did.
"This used to be my favourite time of the year. Still is, I guess. I just haven't had any time to slow down and truly enjoy it in a long time," she said honestly. "In fact, there are a lot of things I haven't had time for lately."
She searched Ziva's eyes, but she was keeping them fixed on the ground in front of her.
"I'm really glad you invited me tonight, Ziva," she added in a low voice.
"I am too," Ziva said. "And I think you should take time to enjoy the simple things." She looked up at her friend with a concerned expression. "You work too hard, Jenny," she added softly.
"I have worked hard and sacrificed a lot to get where I am," Jenny said, a bit harsher than she'd meant to, but Ziva seemed unfazed by her tone.
"Was it worth it?"
"I'm doing just fine," Jenny answered quickly, almost coolly.
"That does not really answer my question," she pointed out, and then she opened her mouth to add something, but Jenny cut her off.
"Ziva, I made my choice a long time ago. This is what I decided to do. I'll admit that sometimes I wish I'd taken it a bit slower."
Jenny stared at her. That question had completely thrown her off.
"What about him?"
Ziva looked at her with mild amusement. "Gibbs," she repeated, as though that would make everything clear. "He's the one you talked about when we first started working together."
"Yes," Jenny agreed. "I told you about him and a lot of what he taught me. But it wasn't a secret that who I was talking about was Gibbs," she said, now confused. What about Gibbs?
"I didn't mean that," Ziva waved her hand in the air dismissively, "I meant when you told me about the lover you left behind. It was Gibbs, yes?" It sounded more like a statement than a question and Jenny was so taken aback by it she completely forgot she should be denying it.
Her face surely betrayed her, for Ziva suddenly smiled victoriously.
"Even if it was him, what does it matter now?" Jenny said, trying to keep her voice steady.
Ziva took her eyes off the snow-covered surroundings to look at her friend. She knew it was probably not her place to talk about this, but there was something, something she'd seen – something she'd noticed that, if brought to the open, might have a huge impact on two people's lives.
"Is that over?" she asked.
"It's been over for a long time now, Ziva," Jenny said, and Ziva detected something that might have been regret flicker across her eyes. Then she turned her head sharply to study Ziva's face under the light from a streetlamp. "What's all this about, Ziva?"
Ziva took a deep breath, and exhaled a cloud of steam.
"I have noticed the way he looks at you," she answered, and Jenny's eyes widened. "And the way you look at him."
"And how, exactly, are we looking at each other?" Jenny asked slowly, as though she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer.
Ziva smiled. "Don't you know?" Ziva's eyes softened as she stated: "I think, that the only people who don't see that you two love each other, are you and Gibbs."
Jenny shook her head dismissively, though Ziva saw a glimmer of pain flash in her eyes. "Ziva, you need to understand," for some reason she found this strangely difficult to say, "that even if…even if there still is something…something between us… It does not mean we ought to act on it. It's too complicated."
They had reached a park where the snowy landscape lay untouched. The branches of the trees were heavy with snow, and frost sparkled like a million tiny diamonds in the night. They stopped on a bridge to look out over the thin icy surface of the lake beneath them. Jenny shivered slightly.
Ziva opened her mouth to say something, but changed her mind and closed it again. Jenny noticed, but chose to ignore it. She was too preoccupied with thinking about what Ziva had just said to come up with something appropriate to talk about. She reluctantly admitted to herself that Ziva hadn't been entirely wrong, at least not on her part. She was well aware of the feelings that would rouse within her whenever she looked at him.
A snowflake fell and landed on her cheek, where it melted and felt like a tear. Jenny quickly wiped it away before it could freeze, but Ziva notice the movement.
"Are you okay, Jenny?" she asked, concerned, apparently thinking Jenny had wiped away a real tear.
Jenny smiled softly. "I'm fine Ziva," she said, checking her watch. "I should call a cab," she added.
They began to wander through the park to the nearest road where Jenny had requested the cab pick them up. Ziva linked her arm through Jenny's as they walked in silence. Jenny smiled, tilted her head up to feel soft snowflakes brush her skin. She watched the world transform; and it was a beautiful thing to watch.
Three days later Jenny woke up with a sore throat, a pounding head and fever-hot forehead. She shut her eyes tightly, trying to stop the sickening spinning in her head, and when she swallowed it hurt as though razorblades had been stuffed down her throat. She forced herself to get up and walked groggily towards the bathroom.
The thought that she should call in sick didn't even occur to her until she stepped into the kitchen ten minutes later. Her legs were shaking as she sank into a chair at the kitchen table and Noemi, who was over by the counter prepping the coffee machine, glance up at the sound and instantly dropped what she was holding and moved closer.
"Señora?" she said tentatively, watching closely as Jenny leaned her head in her hands. "You no look good. You are sick?" she asked in her thick Spanish accent, her dark eyes gleaming with concern.
Jenny forced her head up and managed to fix her gaze on Noemi. "I'm fine," she said weakly, but Noemi looked far from convinced.
"I do not think you are, Señora," she said. "I think you should not go to work today,"
Jenny waved her hand dismissively. "Nonsense. I can't call in sick, I have too much to do," she muttered, while fighting the sudden urge to throw up.
"I will make you some tea. And soup. Soup is good," Noemi hurried back to the counter.
"No, I'll just have some coffee," Jenny said, standing up. She instantly had to reach out to grab the back of the chair to keep steady. She took a few deep breaths. "I'll be in my study," she mumbled, walking slowly out of the kitchen with her hand gripping the door post tightly.
Noemi winced when she heard Jenny coughing violently from the hallway.
It took Jenny three attempts to gather her scattered papers and folders before she reluctantly admitted that maybe she was too sick to go into work today.
She was calling Cynthia when Noemi came back with a tray loaded with a teapot, a bowl of soup, and a piece of soft white bread.
"Call agent Harris and have him fill in for me," she told a surprised Cynthia, glancing up as Noemi put down the tray. "Thank you Cynthia," she ended the call, closing her eyes tightly as her head was pounding almost unbearably.
Around noon Jenny retreated back to her bedroom. The lunch Noemi had brought up was standing untouched on the bedside table, next to an empty teacup.
A copy of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol lay thrown on the bed; her head hurt too much to read. She would glance at the book ever so often, her fingers itching to reach for it, but every time she attempted to read her head began to spin, blurring the words and making them incomprehensible.
As she felt herself dozing off after Noemi had brought her some aspirin, she thought she heard the door downstairs open and shut, but she was too tired and felt too ill to care. It was probably just Cynthia or her security dropping by with an update for the day, like she had requested.
Next morning Jenny woke up to a coughing fit. She squeezed her eyes shut as she leaned over the edge of the bed; her hand flew to her chest as she coughed furiously. She was faintly aware of someone putting something down onto a table, then she felt someone sitting down next to her and wrapping their arm around her shoulders.
The coughing was easing up as she the person holding her spoke, and the shock when she realised just who it was made her choke for a moment.
"Easy Jen," he said, his hand gently rubbing her back.
She lifted her head (it hurt less today, she noted gratefully), and found herself staring into the bright blue eyes of Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
"Jethro?" she said hoarsely. "What are you doing here?"
His concerned eyes skimmed over her face quickly, his hand still rubbing her back gently and the other reaching up to feel her forehead.
"Brought you breakfast," he said, standing up to bring her the bowl of soup she'd heard him place on the bedside table earlier. He held it out for her to grab it, but she kept staring at him.
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm bringing you soup, Jen," he answered without smiling, but his eyes sparkled.
"Jethro," she croaked, exasperated. She lay back against the pillows, pulled at the covers and coughed. She felt the bed dip slightly as he sat down.
"I'm taking care of you," he explained, smiling slightly, and once again tried to offer her the soup bowl. She stared at him as though he'd lost his mind. He chuckled. "I talked to Cynthia yesterday; she told me you had called in sick," he said, a trace of worry laced into his voice. "I came by last night, but Noemi said you were sleeping."
So it was Jethro she'd heard entering the house last night; she briefly remembered the moment just before she'd fallen asleep. She relaxed against the pillows.
"Did you bring an update from agent Harris?"
She stared at him in disbelief. Before she could say anything, he continued: "You shouldn't worry about work when you're sick," his voice was surprisingly soft and tender. "You want this or not?" he was still holding the bowl.
She shook her head, and instantly regretted doing so as pain flashed behind her eyes. Her forehead was still burning from the fever, her throat still swollen and sore.
"You need to eat, Jen,"
"Later," she mumbled, pulling the covers up to her chin. "Gonna sleep for a while."
Jethro reached out to gently tuck the covers around her, and he could not stop his hand from brushing away a lock of hair that lay across her closed eyelids. He closed the curtains against the pale daylight and gently pulled the door closed behind him.
He would heat up the soup for her later, he decided. Entering her kitchen, he put the bowl in the refrigerator; made himself some coffee and walked into her study. He pushed away the blanket and pillow Noemi had fetched him last night and sat down heavily, picking up the book he'd snatched from Jenny's bedside table.
It was just after noon when he heard footsteps in the stairs. He stood up to go meet her in the hallway, his eyes roaming her features. She still looked feverish, but the nap seemed to have helped somewhat, for she smiled a weak smile at the sight of him.
Jethro heated the soup he'd tried to bring her that morning, and brought it to her where she was slouching in the couch in the study.
"Thanks," she groaned, pulling herself into sitting position and accepting the bowl and spoon from him. As she ate, she watched Jethro take a seat in the armchair opposite of her. And he was looking back at her without saying a word. She turned her gaze back to the bowl, hiding a smile. It didn't feel intimidating to have him observing her like this; it felt…nice. She had noticed the pillow and blanket on the floor, and it struck her he must have slept the night there.
The silence was comfortable, and when she looked out the window she saw it was snowing again, which brought a small smile to her lips.
In the afternoon Jenny went back upstairs to rest again. She was already feeling a little better, but she denied it had anything to do with Jethro being there (even though her gut fluttered every time he smiled at her). When she came back downstairs later in the afternoon, when the sky was dark and it had stopped snowing, she entered her study in search for Jethro, but the sight that met her pulled her to a stop on the threshold.
In there was Jethro, and a wonderfully decorated Christmas tree. In all the stress from work, and then with how sick she'd been, it had somehow slipped her mind that today would be Christmas Eve.
She sank down onto the couch, resting her head against the back of it and watched as he added the last of the decorations. Jethro took a step back to look it over.
"It looks nice," Jenny commented. Jethro smirked at her and picked up the tumbler of bourbon he apparently had taken the liberty of pouring for himself. He swallowed a mouthful of the amber liquid as he inspected the tree. It didn't look too shabby.
"Jethro," he turned at the sound of him name, "why are you doing all this?" she asked in a low voice, her tired green eyes staring into his sparkling blues.
He took another sip of bourbon, then shrugged and said, "Can't a guy do something nice for an old friend?"
Jenny raised an eyebrow, but didn't speak. She picked up the pillow from the floor and lay down on the couch, coughing lightly.
He looked at her for a moment, then turned his gaze to the window, where the white snowy blanket brightened the dark December night. "It's Christmas Eve, Jen," he finally said. "Thought you might like some company." He turned and went to the armchair where he sat down heavily. He looked at her, his blue eyes strangely intense.
A thousand thoughts were spinning around in Jenny's still slightly feverish mind, but nothing seemed to be the right thing to say in this moment, so she answered him with a warm smile.
Later on Christmas Eve, after Jethro had forced her to eat some of the paella Noemi had left, they sat together on the couch in her study, her legs resting in Jethro's lap while he absentmindedly rubbed her feet. The lights in the Christmas tree were lit, and in the fireplace a fire burned calmly.
She had not felt this comfortable with Jethro in a long time, and it even felt as though time had faded, along with all the unresolved issues between them from these past years. She knew that they would have to face them eventually, but for now it was nice to just sit here with him, on Christmas Eve, listening to him talking occasionally about things that didn't really matter at all.
"Are you feeling better, Jen?" he asked, his voice low and gravelly. Jethro turned his head when she did not answer. The flickering of the flames cast shadows over her face, and he noticed she'd fallen asleep. He watched her for a long moment, then reached for the blanket and draped it over her.
"Night Jen," he whispered, and placed a soft kiss on her cheek.
She stirred in the early morning on Christmas Day. It was still dark outside the windows. The fire had almost gone out save for a few embers that still glowed in the semi-dark room. She sat up slowly, looking around the room. She could make out Jethro's shape in the armchair from the light provided by the Christmas lights that were still glowing in the tree.
Her eyes were drawn back to the tree. It seemed like years ago there had been a Christmas tree like that in this room. Jethro had brought the spirit of Christmas back into this house – back into her life. He had brought himself back into her life. Jenny closed her eyes and hoped that he had come to stay. If what Ziva had observed was true…if he still did have feelings for her…
She coughed violently, then looked up to see if she'd woken him. His eyes were still closed. Just as she was about to turn her gaze back to the Christmas tree, something in the corner of her vision caught her attention. She turned her head sharply. It was a book. The book she'd left on her bedside table. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. It was a very old and worn copy, for she'd had it for many years. It had been a gift from her father one Christmas, and ever since she'd read it every year. Except these past two years. Jenny flipped through the pages, coffee stains darkening the pages here and there. She sighed as she hugged the beloved book to her chest. This book, this beautifully woven tale that had taught her the meaning of Christmas. She'd almost forgotten how deeply this book always affected her every time she read it.
Feeling tears form in her eyes, she glanced back at Jethro, only to find a pair of clear blue eyes stare back at her. She must have appeared visibly upset, because Jethro quickly pushed himself to his feet, crossed the room and knelt in front of her. He covered her hands with his. He searched her eyes with his, but she expertly avoided them, instead fixing her bright green gaze on the sparkling tree.
"Thank you, Jethro. This is…this is really nice," she said, and she suspected the sudden thickness in her voice was not entirely caused by her stuffed nose.
Jenny felt Jethro's rough fingers under her chin, gently tilting her head up, forcing her to meet his gaze. He leaned forward, pressing his lips against hers. It was a quick kiss, over in a second, but her lips were still tingling after they had parted. She swallowed, then grimaced because her throat was still sore.
"Jethro," she began in the same thick voice. He pressed his index finger firmly against her lips to stop the words she was about to speak.
"Shh, Jen" he mumbled, moving his hand so her face was cradled in his palm. "We can talk later. Let's just enjoy the holiday – together."
He looked at her intensely – and suddenly she saw in his eyes what Ziva must have seen; the yearning and love he still held for her. It warmed her more than she ever thought possible.
Jenny nodded, a smile quickly spreading across her lips – before the coughing started again.
Jethro went to the kitchen and returned ten minutes later with two mugs of hot chocolate and sandwiches. While he was away Jenny had lit the fire again, and gathered a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor between the fireplace and the Christmas tree.
Jethro smirked as he sank down onto the soft pillows, his back leaning against the armchair. Jenny covered his legs with the blankets, leaned against his body and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Merry Christmas, Jen," he said, reaching to clink his mug against hers.
Jenny placed a kiss to his shoulder. "Merry Christmas, Jethro."
She looked out the window; it was snowing.
Jenny smiled widely, nudged Jethro, and said: "When I get better, I'm challenging you to a snowball fight!"