Puppet Strings by DD Agent
I do not own NCIS or any of its characters, or its settings - all belongs to the lovely folks at CBS
He looked around the large country house, the early Californian sun making the back of his neck warm. It was a nice little place with a terrace overlooking a vast collection of trees, and a porch with steps leading down into the basement. Perfectly secluded, perfectly out the way. No noise, barely any people - the best place for a safe house or witness protection. Perhaps just the best place for someone who didn't need any more of the world than what was in that house.
He knocked on the door, wiping his clammy hands on his trousers. There was a small bouquet of roses in his hand, something he had brought on a whim. He almost considered putting them down on the ground and kicking them out of the way. But he knew he wouldn't, they were a small gesture to take some of the sting out of the news he had to impart. He hadn't been able to stop thinking of her since Vance had stabbed McCallister, and his gut burned with the desire to see her, touch her. He hadn't seen her in so long, and as she opened the screen to see who had come to stop by out in the middle of nowhere, he had to physically resist pushing her up against the doorframe.
Jethro presented her with the small bunch of flowers, rubbing his hand over the back of his head. He felt so nervous seeing her, but then he had spent the entire drive over wondering if she would be with someone, or whether she would be too busy to see him. He hadn't seen her for a few months, not since he had disappeared on his father for three days to make sure the Mexican Cartel hadn't discovered her amongst his secrets.
He needn't have worried as she took the roses with a smile, smelling the petals with her eyes closed. Grinning, she reached for his hand and dragged him across the threshold, pulling him into a tight hug. Her hands linked across his shoulder blades, pressing her face into the crook of his neck. His own hands grazed her hips and trailed up the small of her back, as usual taking the time to remind himself she was really there.
Jethro put his arm around her waist as she led him into the lounge. Old books, postcards and some watercolours covered the floor; and Jenny Shepard sat in the centre of the chaos, the eye of the storm. He pulled off his jacket and left it on the sofa, smiling at her. The growing sunlight highlighted the colours in her hair, back to the rich red it had been in Paris. A lifetime, two lifetimes ago.
"How long can you stay, Jethro?" Jenny asked tentatively, looking him over with soft eyes. She laid down onto the floor, the fabric of her dress curving over her legs. Her cheeks started to blush as she felt his eyes over her. She was always desperate for company; complete isolation was not something she was truly accustomed to. She was always desperate for his company, but when only two people in the entire world knew the truth about her life and one of them still worked for a federal agency, it was difficult for her to get visitors.
He knew his muscles would kill him in the morning, but he joined her in lying on the wooden floor, reaching over for her hand. He ran his fingers over the lines of her palm, and smiled. "Well Gorton from San Diego has agreed to come in and help out while Leon is still in hospital." He put a hand on Jenny's stomach as she tried to sit up, wondering what had happened to Leon. "He'll be fine. Jen, we need to talk."
He was in the study at the back of the property, looking out at Jenny on the deck. He could see that she was slightly shaking, and while he wanted to comfort her, he knew he was best inside, pouring a glass of bourbon and letting the bite slide over his lips.
McCallister had tried to take Jenny. He had tried to kill the probie who had risen to Director, and he had damn near succeeded. But that wasn't what stung; it was the fact that both of them had liked Riley, both of them had trusted him. It was the fact that Jenny had been beating herself up over Decker's death for the past three years when she didn't need to at all. McCallister had orchestrated everything; he was the cause for so much pain.
Eventually Jethro was tired of Jenny's silence and moved out onto the deck with a glass of bourbon for her. It hadn't even hit midday, but they both deserved a stiff drink. He put an arm around her collar bone, handing her the glass and leaning into her. She smiled at the comfort of his presence, and continued to look out over the wild expanse of Californian countryside.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Paris," she whispered, closing her eyes. She took the drink he offered and put the glass to her lips, enjoying the burn down her windpipe.
He smiled and nuzzled her neck lightly. "You know, I remember the first time we met in Paris. You were so green, so desperate to prove yourself. So damn probie. Didn't know what had hit you when I showed up."
"You. On the back of the head. Repeatedly."
They shared a laugh as they continued to look out onto the deserted space. Jenny broke from his grip and leant against the wooden railings. She had changed in the three years since she had had to leave NCIS. Her hair was different, longer - and her eyes were brighter than they had been while tackling the frog. She smiled a lot more; at least she did the very few times he got to see her.
There was no paperwork about Jenny being in witness protection, only he and Mike knew the truth. Mike had never visited Jenny, but when Bell and the Cartel had been after him, he had sent Leyla and Emira to stay with Jen. Gibbs himself had only been with Jenny a handful of times, odd days and once a glorious two weeks where they had rediscovered their relationship. But it wasn't, never was, enough for either of them.
"You never really answered my question. How long are you staying?"
"Day or so, then I'll have to drive back." He noticed the slight turn of her mouth. "Got some holiday coming up, I was thinking about taking a week off and coming down here." He moved from her eyes and looked to the deck and then up at the house. "You need some serious repairs on this house, and I want to see about making those stairs down into the valley. Good week's job."
Jenny reached up and pressed a hand to his cheek, rubbing her thumb over the cheekbone. "You'll come to see me too, right? Not just to repair my house?"
He kissed her softly, but he could feel her tremble. The news was still overloading her, and she still needed more space to truly comprehend how this changed everything. So Jethro walked through the French doors and back into the study. Jenny took another sip of her drink and listened as the front door opened and the sound of a car boot opening echoed in the empty landscape. He had brought a small bag, and soon enough the front door banged open again.
Jenny brushed a strand of red hair back behind her ear as she watched Jethro come back out of the French doors again, a six pack of beer and a tool box with him.
"May as well get started on this decking now."
She smiled as she watched him work.
He kissed the top of her thigh, just over one of her many bullet scars. When she had became Director she had but one, shown to a very few people. Now she had plenty, and she was damn lucky that none of them had killed her. His hands moved over her thighs, pulling her towards him desperately, needing to feel her soft skin underneath him.
The quiet of this part of California stunned him every time he visited Jenny. He was used to kids running down the street, of sirens blaring. Nothing but animals and insects out there, and the hushed moans of Jennifer Shepard as he manipulated her body like he had done many times before and wanted to do so again and again.
Her bed was too big for one person. The old wooden frame creaked as he pushed her back to the sheets again, pressing his mouth to her stomach as she laughed. Jethro pulled off his t-shirt and moved to kiss up to her collar bone. When he reached her mouth he pressed his lips to hers hungrily before she dragged herself away, gasping for air.
Jethro leant on his elbow, wanting to look at her for just a moment. A hand traced down her body, her underwear hiding things he wanted to take for himself. For the moment he wasn't overcome with desire, but just the need once again to prove that she was there. He lived the same continual lie back in DC, always having to change tenses and look at his friends as some of them still grieved. Sometimes it was easier to just believe all the lies rather than to hold onto the truth.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked, moving her head to rest on his shoulder. He pulled her body in to his and they kissed, taking their time for once. Memories of MTAC and Positano digs remained unsaid; his eyes were too serious for recent reminiscences.
"Thinking about how much this is like Paris all over again. We can be whoever we want to be here, do whatever we want. But when I go back to DC it's all change. You should have been at that damn conference; you should still be the damn Director. McCallister's been playing with our strings for so long and even with a knife in him the strings aren't cut."
Before Jenny could reassure him, Jethro moved over her and pressed his mouth to hers, not needing the reassurance of her words but of just her. Jenny got lost in the familiarity and the urgency of his touch, and how much she wanted him. After teasing her to the brink, they slid underneath cool sheets and moved together. Their hands curled tight against each other, clinging on for every second they spent together, every thrust and jolt as their bodies moved in patterns long remembered. She screamed his name and he moaned hers, the real one, many times against her skin.
Sometime after they had made love, Jenny had drifted off into sleep. Waking to find herself alone, she walked down onto the deck and to the sound of a sander being taken to the edges. Wearing the shirt she had found in his bag, she handed him a glass of bourbon and picked up the spare sander by his leg. They worked at the stairs until Jenny fell asleep on the deck, her red hair splayed out like a halo behind her. Jethro watched her sleep for a while before carrying her back to her bed and moving in the sheets next to her, curling his body against hers. They had always fitted well together, and as he closed his eyes and listened to her breathing, he began to feel a sense of peace he hadn't in quite some time.
Life was not on his side, and still the puppet strings kept twitching. There was a dead marine and he needed to head back to DC as quickly as he possibly could. He left Jenny's bed as early as he dared; wanting to leave a note for her but notes had never been the strongest part of their relationship. Instead he placed one of the roses he had brought next to the dates he was planning to get off for holiday, time he really wanted to spend with her.
"I miss you, Jen," he whispered into her hair as he kissed his sleeping lover goodbye. He would leave her in his shirt, knowing that she had it would keep him smiling until the next time he could see her.
Making his way down the steps of her house, he noticed there was something under one of the windscreen wipers. He looked around, trying to see for possible assassins. Happy that there was no one watching him, he pulled out the small item from under the wiper. It was a photograph, one of him and Jenny in Paris, arms curved around each other. He remembered when this photograph had been taken, and remembered it had been one of the ones he had given to Jenny after she had lost everything.
Turning the photograph over, he chuckled at what was inscribed on the back. In the brief time he had spent with Jenny while being hunted by the Cartel, he had told her more about Shannon and Kelly and his time with Mike, and more importantly about how the rules came to be. He'd even shown her the scraps of paper, for once happy to talk just to hear her laugh.
On the back of the photograph was what Jethro decided to be the first of Jenny's own rules, like Abby and Tony's own set.
Rule # 1 - Never leave Jethro
He looked up, grinning from the photograph. As he opened the car door, he turned back to the house and noticed Jenny watching him go by the doorway. She blew him a kiss as he drove off, hoping that he understood her message. Despite McCallister, despite everything that had happened in that diner, she wasn't going anywhere. This wasn't Paris - there would be no regrets this time.
In his car, after he had hung up on DiNozzo, Jethro put the photograph in his wallet, an easy place to remember both the truth and lies, and cling onto that truth. He turned onto the highway and started to smile, wondering if he needed to add a Rule # 52 to his collection.