Single Candle by DD Agent

I do not own NCIS or any of its characters, or its settings - all belongs to the lovely folks at CBS

Set loosely after 8.21, this story is part of the California Series. Previous stories include Puppet Strings and Little White Lies. Thank you to hopesmom888 for the name of Jenny's dog, and a big thank you to everyone who reviewed! And as always, I hope you enjoy!

Leroy Jethro Gibbs had never been particularly good at birthdays, apart from taking Abby out every year, and making sure there was a bottle of Scotch on Ducky's desk for his.

On Jenny's first birthday as director, he had surprised her with a bottle of bourbon and a small kiss lingering on the corner of her mouth. The year after that she had been at a conference and a bottle of expensive bourbon had made its way - late - into her study. The third year she had spent in a London hotel room; watching a documentary about her death.

The two years between that awful birthday and the one currently upon Gibbs, he had been working. A bottle of bourbon had found her in the small Parisian safe house they had previously used, and on the front door of her then new house. This year, as he was officially with Jenny and feeling things he didn't think was possible since Shannon, he wanted Jenny's birthday to be special.

He had already secured the overtime so he didn't have to work the weekend shift, and as long as a case didn't hit them on Thursday, he could jet off to California that night and surprise Jenny Friday morning for breakfast out on the deck. However it was the deciding what to get her that was the real cause of his anxiety. Jewellery felt too blasé, shoes were too personal and while lingerie would be the perfect gift for them both, fancy underwear and lace ties and garter belts were a way to tease him rather than to make her scream.

"Hell...what can I get her?" Gibbs muttered to himself, scribbling the occasional idea. He couldn't get her books or a video. He thought about maybe making her something but apart from a shoe rack to hold Jenny's growing collection of heels, he wouldn't even know where to begin.

The only thing Jenny had mentioned recently was about a dog. She wanted something to share her home with, and while Jethro liked dogs, he wasn't sure what Jenny would like. Suddenly the phone rang and the team were called up for another case. Gibbs put the pad away and focussed on his work. Jenny's birthday would have to wait.

X

Morning Penny!"

Jenny Shepard had been in a world of her own when Julia called out to her. She smiled at the woman straightening out the second hand books in front of her shop until the elderly blonde knocked a few of them over. Jenny knelt down to help pick them up; Julia grateful for the help as she smiled at the redhead.

"Got time for a cup of coffee, Penny? Or do you have to get back up to Thomas?"

"Coffee sounds great, Julia."

The two women moved into the small trinket shop and out through the back, all the while Jenny admiring the collection of items Julia had in. The two were reasonably close: Julia had been the first to welcome Jenny when she had arrived in Madison two years ago.

Julia poured Jenny a cup of coffee. As she put the fine china to her lips, Jenny's heart pierced with memories of Ducky. Since Jethro had started to visit her more and more, she had begun to think about the life she had left behind. It was easy to forget when cut off from everything, not so easy when the face of NCIS was curled up beside her in bed.

"So, how is Thomas?" Julia asked.

Another sip of coffee, and out came the cover story. Thomas Miller was a former marine sniper trying to write his autobiography in the midst of the Californian countryside. 'Penny Leonard', a name she and Gibbs had stolen from McGee's book, was his housekeeper. Thomas was fictional, but the cover was strong enough to withhold those who would go looking, which is all they needed. That, and neighbours who didn't ask too many questions.

"He's fine; keeps spending a lot of time in the city seeing his ex wife, unfortunately. Keeps him out underfoot though"

Julia smiled and pushed a plate of biscuits towards Jenny. "Well that just means you have the place to yourself! Is that handsome man going to be coming back soon?"

"Jethro? I hope so."

Julia smiled at Jenny's blush, and the two kept up the inane chit chat for a while. Julia reminded Jenny once again to tell Thomas about her son who worked in LA so they could meet. As usual, she just nodded and turned her thoughts to something else, like her birthday that weekend. She hoped Jethro would come down and visit her, but she was resistant to be so optimistic, their relationship was too complicated to be anything but casual.

"So, got anything special planned for the weekend?" Julia asked, pouring Jenny another cup of tea.

"Hopefully."

X

Thursday evening was rushing past too quickly for Gibbs' liking. Barrett's team were off tracking down leads of the Port to Port killer. He was supposed to be packing and worrying that he still hadn't thought of anything to buy Jenny for her birthday. Instead he was in an alleyway, getting wet by the fine spring drizzle and looking at a dead petty officer.

"Time of death, Doc?" he spat, disappointment and anger flooding through him. Why could they never catch a break?

"Can you at least let me look at the body, Jethro?" Ducky asked as he crouched down to examine the pretty young Petty Officer. "I'm not that good."

He knew he shouldn't snap at Ducky. But he wanted this murder solved, he wanted the pressure of P2P off his shoulders, he wanted to be pressing Jenny into the seams of the deck and see her red curls splayed underneath his hands. But his wants had to be put aside and he needed to focus on the murdered woman. She deserved more attention than what he was giving her.

"McGee, find out who was the last one to see Petty Officer Arthur alive," Gibbs shouted. "DiNozzo - shoot and sketch. David, interview the guy that found her."

The Petty Officer looked like she had been ready to go out, and it looked like he was going to be spending the evening cursing himself about Jenny. He was tired of barely spending a couple of days with her; he wanted to be able to be with her properly. Once Ducky had given him a time of death, Gibbs stalked back to the Navy Yard, eventually calming himself down to ring the familiar number.

"Penelope Leonard," announced her warm voice at the other end of the phone. Damn, he'd hit her home number by mistake.

"Hey, it's Jethro."

"Hi Jethro," Jenny giggled on the phone. "Come to wish me an early happy birthday?"

Jethro sighed. "I was planning to come see you this weekend but we just got a case. I don't know when I'll be able to get away."

"It's okay, Jethro, its fine. Work the case, catch a killer. We can celebrate my birthday another day. It's just a day, after all. And don't worry about a present either, the traditional bottle of bourbon will do, Jethro."

He pushed a hand through his hair, sighing at her ever increasing ability to know what he needed her to say. "What do you want for your birthday, Jenny? More than anything?"

He heard her laugh over the phone. "To kiss you in the NCIS elevator. We never got a chance to do that."

Jethro chuckled. "We did manage to make out in the Director's office, though."

"I still don't know how Morrow didn't catch us! Especially as your hand was…places it really shouldn't be in the Director's office!"

Gibbs turned behind him and looked at the NCIS headquarters, thinking back to old times with the woman on the other end of the phone. Times when things were so simple, where sneaking around didn't mean lying to everyone you loved about something so huge.

There were footsteps behind him, McGee was there. "Boss? We've found out who the Petty Officer spent the day with. But there's a problem, she's missing too."

Gibbs hung his head. He looked at the phone, and sighed. "I'll call you soon, okay? Keep safe."

"Always."

Storming past McGee, Gibbs headed inside. Some bastard was ruining his weekend and Jenny's birthday. Some bastard had taken two women, at least, and one of them was dead. Another bastard was slitting people's throats and playing dress up with them. As of that moment, Leroy Jethro Gibbs was not a man to cross.

X

Thursday evening had dripped into early morning and they had discovered another body, the friend of Petty Officer Arthur. DiNozzo had done his research and discovered that the Petty Officer had been part of a bachelorette party of a fellow Lieutenant. All five of the women were missing, and McGee and Ziva were looking for the groom, and any jilted boyfriends lurking in the shadows.

Gibbs was skulking down in autopsy, waiting for Ducky's final report. His hand was curling and uncurling in anger as he strode in lines. It was only when Ducky put down his scalpel and put on the kettle that Gibbs looked up to see his old friend gazing at him with a worried expression.

"Is everything alright Jethro?"

He thought about lying, but it wasn't so much another lie that he had to deal with, but the need to tell the truth. Just so he could tell someone how much his heart was hurting.

"I had plans, Duck. I was supposed to be on a plane right now."

"To see your father?"

Gibbs smiled. One day he'd have to introduce Jenny to his father, with another alternate name and an alternate history of how they had met. He thought Jenny would like his Dad; he knew she missed her own father terribly. He would share his father if it made her smile.

"If you promise not to tell anyone, can I tell you something Duck?"

Ducky smiled. "Of course, Jethro. It'll just be you, me, Petty Officer Arthur and Ensign Caerns." He passed Gibbs a cup of tea that was more for him to hold than it was for him to drink from. "I never told anyone about you and Jennifer."

Jethro tried not to feel sad at the mention of Jenny; after all it was the same woman they were going to be discussing shortly. Just with a different name and a different location. Getting up the courage to share what he needed to, Gibbs spat the words out.

"Ducky, I'm seeing someone." He watched as the medical examiner's eyebrows went up, as well as the corners of his mouth. "It's her birthday this weekend, and I was planning to go down and see her."

Ducky sipped his tea. "Well surely you can go down after this case is sorted. You may be able to catch most of her birthday."

Jethro nodded. "I'm just tired of spending odd days with her. She lives in California, and it's just so…"

"Hard." Ducky smiled sympathetically. "You really do like this woman, don't you?"

He nodded once more, not sure how to put in exact words his feelings for Jenny Shepard. He raised his hands and took a sip of the tea, needing to occupy his body while he thought of the best way to respond to Ducky. He made a face at the drink, wanting his own coffee instead.

"I really like her Duck. But it's complicated, living away from her. I haven't felt this way about a woman since Shannon."

Ducky paused and put his tea cup down. "Not even about Jenny?"

Before he could answer, Palmer came in from delivering some of the evidence they had found to Abby's lab. Gibbs put the cup down and turned his back on the medical examiner, trying to regroup himself. What was this obsession about mentioning Jenny all of a sudden? After opening up about Jenny to Abby there had been comments from Tony, the odd mention of her from Ziva. Did they all know? Was everyone trying to punish him for lying for three years?

"I'm sorry Mister Palmer - but there is some more evidence to get to Abby. Quick smart!"

Once Autopsy was empty again, Ducky turned to his friend. "You care about this woman, Jethro. Does she feel the same about you? She's not the type to take a baseball bat to your head for missing her birthday, is she?"

"No, Ducky, she's not like that," Jethro chuckled. "I called her and she understood. Told me to go catch the bad guys."

Ducky smiled. "Well then you better had, Jethro. What is the lucky lady's name?"

"Penelope."

The name hung in the air until Ducky completed his autopsy. Gibbs stood up, hands in his pockets as he turned to Ducky for the results. The medical examiner looked troubled by something.

"I didn't notice at first but with the light it is obvious that while both their throats were slit, two different knives were used. You're looking for two different killers, Jethro."

Gibbs cursed as he stormed out of autopsy, and left Ducky alone. As he started putting marks on paper and cleaning up from his autopsy, Ducky thought about Jethro's new girlfriend. Something was off with him of late, just little things. Gibbs seemed more able to talk about Jenny, even putting a picture of them up in happier times but he froze whenever they mentioned her, which after his conversation with Abby was becoming more frequent. It was confusing.

Whatever was going through his friend's mind, Ducky was glad he was happy. He knew this Penelope would be in for a lovely treat for her birthday. When Jenny had turned a year older when all three of them had been in Paris, they had gone up to the Eiffel tower, although it was only Jenny and Jethro who had stayed long into the night. Ducky hadn't dared wait up for them; he knew they were out celebrating more than just her birthday.

A scalpel clattered to the floor as Ducky realised it was also Jenny Shepard's birthday that weekend.

X

"I get it. You find out your fiancée is cheating on you with her commanding officer, you get a little upset. Usually in these cases the guy being cheated on goes after the man she's cheating with. Maybe beats around the girl, usually just puts a bullet in the guy. Not rips the throats out of an entire bachelorette party."

Gibbs watched from the observation room as Ziva and Tony interrogated the fiancé of Lieutenant Ellis, who between him and his best man, had murdered three navy officers and two civilians because they all knew about the affair. They had found the two men cleaning up after the murder of their fifth victim, one of the civilians. Lieutenant Ellis' body had not yet been recovered, but a great deal of her blood had been found on their clothes. It was like they were trying to get caught.

"She made a fool out of me!" The fiancé yelled, trying to gain sympathy for the mass murder of five women, four of whom had never hurt anyone in their entire lives. "All the officers who would be at our wedding would know that she had fucked him while they had been on tour. He would sit at our wedding. Hell, he would fucking give her away!"

"Language!" Tony said, shaking his head. "I have delicate ears. So you don't deny that you and your knucklehead best man killed five women."

The fiancé jerked his hair forward, the bloodied wedding suit shifting through his movements. "I'm not denying anything. Four less men who get their lives ruined by whores who don't give a fuck."

With a confession, Gibbs moved out of the observation room and out into the corridor to see Tony and Ziva. Tony looked exhausting - they had been working this case for thirty six hours straight and had ultimately failed. They had got on the case too late for any of the girls to be spared. But the two men would get life, maybe even the death penalty after making the mistake of dumping one of the girls in Virginia.

Looking at the fiancé, Ziva piped up. "Can I wash his mouth out with soap, please, Gibbs?"

"Not yet, Ziva. Book both of them, then write it all up. If we're lucky, we can get out of here by midday."

Ziva and Tony walked away, both of them happy to get away and spend some time out of the office. While Gibbs gritted his teeth, knowing Tony would most likely be going home to Barrett, a little voice in him said he shouldn't be too hard on the boy. After all, he had broken rule twelve for Jenny. But she was someone special, worth breaking everything for.

"Congratulations on catching your man, Jethro," Ducky said from behind him. Gibbs turned and smiled weakly at him.

"Wish we had caught him earlier Duck. Then I could be going home knowing that we'd at least saved someone."

Ducky coughed. "You aren't going to visit…Penelope? Call her at least. Is her birthday today or tomorrow?"

Gibbs realised it was Saturday. "Today. I could get there late afternoon, I guess. I just don't want to bring this over to her, Ducky."

Ducky nodded, before resting a hand on Gibbs' elbow. "She sounds like she understands, Jethro. Don't let this case ruin what was going to be a wonderful weekend. Enjoy her company; enjoy time away from this place. You have earned it."

He patted his friend's arm before walking in the opposite direction. Gibbs smiled, realising he could write up the report and be out and on a plane quickly. He could leave a message for Leon, asking to change his holiday and have the first two days of the following week off. He grinned for a moment, before turning his head to yell at Ducky.

"Duck! What do you know about dogs?"

X

So far her birthday had been pretty uneventful. Although she had had high hopes about spending the day with Jethro, she was okay with him being half way across the country. He had a job to do, and it gave her time to put together her list of reasons why it was okay for her not to be dead anymore. Of course he would retort with the simple answer of her safety. She didn't know if anyone else wanted her dead, and without the protection of being Director, she was vulnerable.

Maybe in a couple more years, when they were sure that the people she had angered through her obsession with Rene Benoit and her work in Paris wouldn't want her head, things could go back to normal. She could pick up Jethro for work and then they could have dinner, or she could go down and visit Ducky in Autopsy and cuddle Abby in her lab. Something so simple was all she wanted.

"Sit. Just. Stay. Don't make me handcuff you."

Jenny pushed herself out of the chair as she heard the familiar voice outside her home. Grinning ridiculously, Jenny pulled open the door and ran down to the rental car where Jethro seemed to be having an argument with someone in his back seat.

"Jethro!"

He spun and looked at her, his eyes glazing with desire as she realised just how short her summer dress was. She brushed some hair behind her ear as she walked forward to him.

"Sorry I'm late, Jen. Was getting your birthday present. No biting!" Gibbs growled the last part to whatever was in the car with him.

Jenny stepped back while her lover picked something out of the car. It was an adorable white and tan puppy who was struggling in Jethro's arms. He immediately put her in Jenny's, who stroked the little puppy's head. She licked her chin in response, happy with her new owner.

"Happy Birthday Jenny."

"You got me a puppy!" He had never seen Jenny so excited as she adjusted the little bundle of fur and started to stroke her tummy. Gibbs had to stop breathing as thoughts about Jenny and babies kept running through his mind at the current sight of her. He needed to stop. A puppy was fine; a puppy wouldn't complicate their relationship to extremes. "She's so cute, Jethro, thank you!"

Locking up his car, Jethro put an arm around Jenny as he walked her and the puppy - who didn't seem to like him - into the house. Jenny sat down on the floor and the puppy sat content on her dress while adjusting to her new surroundings.

"She's a King Charles Spaniel. A family down the block from me were selling them, and I bought this little one. Ducky says they're a good breed."

"Was Ducky surprised that you were asking about dogs?" Jenny asked, watching as her new companion sneezed. She thought it was the cutest thing ever, and stroked her head. Jenny was like a child, but then she had only had her grandparent's dogs growing up, no pets of her own. The little puppy was her first one.

Gibbs coughed. "He knows I'm seeing someone." Jenny looked up and smiled, hoping for the best but it immediately fell at his lack of response. "Jenny, I talked to Mike. We both agree that this arrangement is best for now, you staying here with little Jasper. McCallister tried to kill Leon, was after you too. We did a lot of unethical things in Paris, Jenny, because of him. He could have sold that information, and I'm not planning to risk your life any time soon."

Jenny nodded, sighing. She knew Jethro was right, but that didn't mean she had to like it. Something he said jarred with her, and she pulled her little puppy to her. "Little Jasper? She's a girl."

"I thought it would be a good name for a dog. I like the name Jasper," Jethro smirked, and Jenny sighed softly, thinking about her father. "You got any other ideas?"

"What about Tony?" Jenny teased, remembering why Abby had chosen the name of the dog McGee eventually adopted. "Cute, loveable…" The air went out of her as Jethro moved over her body, stopping her from talking about his agent in a tone that should only be reserved for him.

Gibbs was leaning down to kiss her when the puppy nicked the back of his hand. Cursing, Jethro stood up. Jenny wagged her finger at the puppy, who bowed her head. She had really taken to Jenny, perhaps because she was not the one who had put her in a pet carrier for five hours to take her to California.

"She's trouble, but adorable." Jenny ran through a couple of names in her head before deciding on one that made her smile. "Marseille. I'm calling her Marseille."

"You can't call a dog Marseille."

"I can do whatever I like." Jenny stuck her tongue out at him, and Gibbs had to resist the urge to bite it. "It's my birthday."

Closing the doors and putting Marseille down on the rug to sniff out the room, Jenny reached for Jethro's collar and brought him down to her mouth, giving him a proper thank you for her birthday present.

X

Jenny Shepard didn't think life could get better than what she had. Her birthday had been lovely, but the two days afterwards she had spent with Jethro had been even better. They had bought cake in town and ate it while watching the sun go down. They had visited the small pet store to get the things they needed for little Marseille, who was adapting to her new environment pretty well. She was even adapting to Gibbs, but preferred to stay near her mistress.

"Jen, why do you have so many films without cases?" Jethro asked as he came out from the study onto the desk. His breath caught as he saw her eating left over birthday cake with ice cream, splayed out on the deck. Marseille was tugging on a chew toy they had brought her in the corner.

"Marco lent me them. He runs the market."

Gibbs lent down, picked up Marseille from where she was going to topple down the half built steps and dumped the small puppy in his lap. She growled, and Gibbs had to bop the small puppy on the nose. "I Know What You Did Last Summer?"

"Pissed off a Mexican Cartel, wasn't it?" Jen teased.

He smirked. "Actually most of my summer was spent thinking about making love to a beautiful woman."

"Ms Hart on your mind?" Jen shot back, remembering the occasional call that she had got where Jethro had been cursing the lawyer. Jethro, in response, shook his head and bopped his lover on the nose.

"Behave, Jen, or I'll have to handcuff you."

"I dare you."

Jenny stood up, leaving her bowl behind on the deck. She grabbed Jethro's hand and pulled him up. She wrapped her arms around his neck and they started to sway, leaning in to kiss. His hands were tied around her waist, wanting to be as close to her as he could. He moved his head to kiss her, when she suddenly blurted something out.

"Mike."

He raised his eyebrows. "Jethro," he said, reminding her of his name jokingly. "I honestly thought he wasn't your type, Jen. Unless you've started liking cowboys."

She hit him on the shoulder. "The film. The killer in it is the spitting image of Mike. I keep rewatching it, and thinking whether Mike has got that handy with a fishing hook in Mexico."

Jethro nuzzled her neck. "You'll have to tell Mike that the next time you see him. That'll certainly make him like you more."

There was a noise from below their feet, and Jenny picked up Marseille and placed her down in the study where she could tug in peace. Once the little puppy was safe, Jenny turned back to Jethro and threw her arms around him. He picked her up and spun her around. They both started laughing, before he placed a kiss to the corner of her mouth.

"You know, I did want a serious answer about what you wanted for your birthday," Jethro smirked. "While I'm sure the puppy was a good choice, I want to know what you really want. For Christmas, you know?"

Jenny wasn't fooled for a moment, and pressed her lips to his gently. "You. I always want you."

They held onto each other, not needing to speak as Jenny's words spoke volumes. They only broke apart when Marseille started chewing on one of Jethro's shoes, and he went to bop her on the nose again. Watching Jethro get outsmarted by a puppy, Jenny giggled. This was what she had always wanted, and now she had it.

Her smile faltered as she realised that these moments were brief, and what she truly wanted was twelve years too late.