Changes to the Rules by DD Agent
The fourth fic in the "California Series". Once again I cannot write short, which is why I have split this fic into two parts - the second part will be posted tomorrow.
I would like to thank everyone who has read the previous three installments in this series. A special thank you to everyone who has reviewed: .; hopesmom; Pixie-Galaxy-Dust; BritMonkey; MatteaAM; HuddyJibbsAddict; Mrs Elizabeth Gibbs; Miss Jayne; yathink1123; pschmidt409 and Sitting Ducki. You all are the *best*, your reviews mean so much to me :D So many, many, many thanks!
Hope you enjoy!
He didn't want to have to make that last call yet. He couldn't stand the idea of hearing her voice tremor over the phone, giving him condolences while his tie constricted him. He couldn't call Jenny yet and tell her Mike was dead, that his funeral had been today and all he wanted to do was hit something. He had known Mike was dying, but this was…this was a brutal end to a case that had started to consume him.
Gibbs hadn't been back to California since Jenny's birthday. The Port to Port Killer case had picked up and although he had called her a couple of times to see how she and Marseille were, he needed to isolate himself. He knew she would understand that feeling; she was good at self isolation. But he also knew that she would want to be there to talk to him and every moment he kept this from her she was likely to hit him with something. It still wasn't real to him yet.
The worst thing was that the grief of Mike brought out the grief of Jenny, and of Kate. They had lost too many good people, people that shouldn't have died. As he sat in his desk, his patterned noose around his neck, he watched his team. McGee was finishing up paperwork, trying to keep a handle on his emotions. Tony was staring into space, obviously remembering blood stained glass. Ziva was typing furiously at her computer, trying to keep busy. Gibbs hadn't ventured down to see Abby yet, knowing he was a bastard for not doing so, but he wasn't physically able to deal with her loss today.
"Hello Jethro," Ducky greeted, resting a hand on his shoulder. "How are you?"
He put down his phone and turned to his friend. He didn't really know what to say. "Getting by, Ducky. Getting by."
He watched as Ducky dragged a chair from one of the other desks and planted himself next to his own. He frowned at the medical examiner. "Ducky, are you okay?"
Ducky frowned for a moment, before he decided to admit what had brought him upstairs. "Jethro, I was wondering if you had talked to Penelope about Mike."
He noticed McGee, Tony and Ziva stopped working at the sentence, their curiosity overtaking their senses. Leroy Jethro Gibbs had never felt the urge to hurt one of his friends so badly in his entire life - he didn't need to be dealing with any potential ribbing, teasing or distress on top of his grief.
"No, I haven't, Ducky. Haven't really had time to call her."
Ducky coughed. "Well if you two are as close as you say, I think you should, Jethro. It may help to talk to someone who isn't directly involved." If only you knew, Ducky.
Gibbs stood up from his chair, still not wanting to have that conversation. But it seemed that the idea that the boss had a girlfriend had brightened up his team.
"You seeing someone, boss?"
Tony joined McGee in the questions. "How come we haven't met her yet? She a redhead?" Tony turned to Ziva. "Ten dollars says she's a redhead."
Gibbs, exasperated, turned to head out of the bullpen. Doing so, he ran into Abby. He managed to save both the scientist and the Caf Pow from falling to the floor. Abby smiled weakly up at him.
"Where's the fire, Gibbs?"
McGee swung back in his chair, turning to Abby with a grin. Gibbs hoped he didn't say what he was about to, or he may have to reduce his team down to two agents.
"Tony's teasing Gibbs about his girlfriend." He stared at McGee with a look that could burn through wood. "Which is wrong because our personal lives have no bearing on what we do at work. Which is what we should be doing. Right now."
He could see Abby's Caf Pow start to shake, and Gibbs directed her out of the teams eye line and round the corner so he could talk with her properly. She looked distraught, and Gibbs didn't know what to say to make it better.
"You have a girlfriend? Since when?"
He didn't know what to do. This was why he hadn't wanted to use the cover story with anyone at NCIS; he had only used it as a last resort with Ducky. Now, he had even more lies to share.
Gibbs sighed, struggling to explain his predicament. "Penelope is a friend."
Abby didn't look impressed. "A friend? Why haven't we heard anything about her, and why is McGee saying she's your girlfriend? And what sort of high and mighty name is Penelope anyway?"
"Abby…" Gibbs started, but he had no follow up.
Abby looked like she was about to break down into tears. The young woman that he considered a daughter, that was his daughter in every sense bar biologically, looked like she had had her heart broken. And he had done that to her.
"So, are you seeing this person? Do you have feelings her? Do you love her as much as you love Jenny?" He looked down and away, and Abby made a noise that nearly broke his heart. "Oh my god, you do. So all that stuff about how much you miss Jenny and how much you love her was all crap!" Abby's eyes were shedding tears. "I get why you did it, Gibbs, to make me feel better but if you didn't mean it you shouldn't have said it! Do you even still care about Jenny at all?"
Abby started to walk off, and Gibbs ran after her. He spun her around and rested a hand on his cheek that she twisted off her skin.
"Abby, I care, I care."
"Why don't I believe you?"
Gibbs tried to reach out to Abby, but she just left him and walked solitarily back to her lab. Walking back into the bullpen, his team were watching him sadly - they had heard every word. He moved back to his desk and picked up his phone, intending to go home and loosen the knot of his tie. He felt like he was being strangled.
"I'm heading out. Don't stay too late."
Gibbs grabbed his things and walked through the three desks, avoiding all the questions formulating on their lips. Ducky followed him into the elevator, which was not the medical examiner's first mistake of the day. As it got underway, Ducky flipped the emergency switch. Gibbs rested his hands inside his pockets for fear of battering his old friend.
"What part of between us did you not understand?" Gibbs hissed.
Ducky knew better than to touch Gibbs, even if it was meant as comfort. "I am sorry Jethro, but I'm worried about you. I'm concerned about your relationship with Penelope."
Gibbs reached over and pushed the emergency switch back to on. As soon as the lift had gone down to the ground floor, Jethro clung onto the doors and stared at his old friend, anger and shame coursing through him.
"My relationship with Penelope is none of your business, Doctor Mallard."
Going down to his car, he slid his phone out from his pocket. He scrolled down the numbers, finding the one that said "Penelope" instead of "Jen". Groaning in frustration, Gibbs threw the phone to the floor and kicked it. Getting in his car, he decided to find the nearest bar and drink his way through enough bourbon to numb everything.
He had drunk the contents of what felt like two bars as he got a cab home, leaving his car somewhere to be picked up tomorrow. Stepping out of the doors, he sat down in front of his house. The whole street was quiet, like it had been the night Mike was killed. The rain had created a fresh air, like the beginning of spring. To Gibbs, it felt like the beginning of the end.
Standing up, he felt better physically but mentally he was in turmoil. His crushed phone was in his pocket, useless. Still, at least it gave him an excuse to put off calling Jenny for a couple more days. Everything was going wrong, and the lies were becoming more painful as he deliberately lied to those he loved.
What pained him more was that all he wanted to do was get in his car or get on a plane to see Jenny. Just to be held by her, just to get away from DC and all the pain it seemed to cause him. But he couldn't, he couldn't afford himself the luxury of her all the time. He was even starting to think he should stop going to see her for the sake of his family. He would sacrifice his own happiness to stop unwittingly hurting those he loved.
"You going to come inside, Jethro, or am I going to have to bring you coffee out here?"
He looked up from the kerb and turned around to his house. For the first time, the woman he honestly wanted to be standing in his doorway actually was. Red hair, green eyes, wearing his NIS shirt like she was the poster girl for it, and for three years she had been.
Jethro didn't move, not wanting to disturb the vision. So she moved instead, carrying two mugs of coffee down the pathway before sitting on the kerb with him. She passed him one of the cups silently, and leant against his shoulder. She looked tired, and she had been crying.
He took a gulp of his coffee, his tongue licking the warm droplets from the rim. Putting it down on the pavement, he reached for Jenny and wrapped both his arms around her. She clung onto him, her fingers digging into the fabric of his shirt. He kissed her hair, feeling his heart start to relieve at the feel of her in his arms.
As they broke apart, he put both his hands around her face and kissed her lightly on the mouth. Her fingers ran over his cheeks, wiping away the tears she saw at the corner of his eyes. Jenny reached over and kissed the top of his head.
"Rule number two. Never be afraid to ask for help if you need it,"she whispered.
He didn't say anything, just wrapped his arms around her waist and carried her inside, leaving the two mugs of coffee on the pavement. Jethro shut the door behind them and let Jenny down on her feet. He held her in the doorway, not knowing what else to do. Eventually he turned to her and smiled weakly, running his thumbs over her closed eyes.
"How did you know to come, Jen?"
She opened her eyes and buried herself against his chest. "When you didn't call for a few days I got worried and decided to drive over and make sure you weren't in hospital or something. Then I got here, and I saw the program for Mike's funeral." She sighed and reached for his hand. "Oh Jethro, I'm so sorry."
He didn't say a word, just held her for a while. When he broke from their embrace, he headed up the stairs. She stood there until his voice called down to her. "You coming, Jen?"
She ran up the stairs, seeing the bathroom door close and she decided to head into Jethro's bedroom. Painted white, the only furniture was a bed. Jenny wrapped herself under the sheets and waited for her lover to come back. He returned wearing boxer shorts and an old polo shirt. He gave a disgruntled look at the NIS t-shirt she was wearing.
"I wear that to bed, you know."
"I know." Jenny patted the bed beside her. He crawled under the sheets and pulled her to him, his hand moving under his t-shirt and onto her warm skin. It felt so wonderful to hold her, and in his own bed. They hadn't been like this in his house for over a decade.
For a while they just lay in silence. Eventually, as the sound of Jenny's breathing hypnotised him, he started to talk about Jonas Cobb, about Mike's death and his funeral, and the revelation of 'Penelope' that had come earlier in the day. Jenny had clung onto his arm as he told her about Abby's pain; he knew how much she missed her.
"Jethro. I can leave here in the morning, and you can never see me again. You can lose my number; you can just pretend I'm dead. It'll be easier for you."
He looked down at her and slowly slapped her around the back of the head. She smiled and snuggled back into him. "I can try, Jen, but it won't work. I…" The first time she had said it to him she had opened herself up and he had made a joke. It wasn't until later that he had said it back to her. Lying in bed with her, Jethro couldn't think of a more perfect time to be open with Jenny and admit how he felt. "I love you."
"I love you too, Jethro." She smiled and reached over to give him a kiss. "I miss him, you know. We didn't get off to the greatest start, but he came when I needed him and it's because of him I'm still here, and we're together."
Jethro nodded, thinking back to the volatile relationship Mike and Jenny had had. Despite their vast differences, they had come together to help each other and help the one person they both agreed on: him. He owed Mike a debt of gratitude in helping Jenny, in helping her and bringing her to a hospital to get the help she needed. If it wasn't for Mike, then he would be grieving Jenny instead of holding her in his arms.
"Maybe you need to visit less." The conversation had switched back to the difficulties in their relationship. "Or, I could come live here." She smirked as Jethro shook his head vehemently. "What? I came here on my own, took a car trip all across the country to get here. I'm a big girl, Jethro."
All the worries and concerns he had about her in DC were twofold now. "I can't lose you too."
Jenny didn't say anything more; just let Jethro hold her as he slipped off to sleep. She understood his feelings. She had been just as scared when he had dropped out of contact, thinking it would be him lying in a coffin and no one would even let her know. He couldn't lose her. Well she couldn't live without him.
He was out on the kerb, picking up the paper when he saw the two coffee mugs from last night. He picked them up and headed inside, determined that once Jenny was up and awake he'd get a cab, pick up his car and go on a coffee run. She wouldn't be going with him, he knew given half a chance she would sneak into the navy yard. Instead, with the weekend, he could spend time in his basement and watch Jenny play with the - where the hell was the dog?
Racing inside, he went down to the basement first and thankfully found no sign of any dog ruining his work. He jogged back up the stairs and went through into the kitchen, where he found a small basket and a small fluff ball asleep. He also found Jenny's bag, and a bag of dog food for Marseille. He filled a cereal bowl with food, and another one with water. The puppy was appreciative, and didn't even mind Jethro stroking her. It seemed that he was growing on Marseille. Or maybe her mistress wasn't too hot now she had dragged her across the country.
There was a knock on the door but Jethro didn't move until it opened. He recognised Ducky's footfalls, and went out to greet him. He didn't look well; perhaps it was the anticipation of round two of their argument.
"Jethro. I wanted to apologise for what happened last night. I didn't mean to start an argument between you and Abigail; I was merely trying to start a conversation I've been meaning to begin for a while now."
Jethro nodded. He heard a creak of the floorboards upstairs, but thankfully Ducky didn't seem to notice. Gibbs realised he needed to get Ducky out quickly. "Thanks, Ducky. I'll sort it out, don't worry. As for whatever you need to talk to me about, it can wait till Monday, I'm sure."
"Jethro, it really can't." Ducky rested a hand on his arm. "I'm worried about you, and your relationship with Penelope. Now you can tell me to leave it alone, and you'd be well within your rights. But your relationship with her is not healthy."
Gibbs was confused. He crossed his arms and turned to Ducky. "What?"
"Jethro, Penelope shares the same birthday as Jenny. She lives in California, the place of Jenny's death. Even her name - a common shortening of 'Penelope' is 'Penny'. I also think that your trips to California and the secrecy of your relationship remind you of Paris, and Jenny of course."
Jethro was even more confused. He hadn't expected that, but then the Doctor was now a profiler. "You saying that Penelope is what, a Jenny stand in?"
"It may not be apparent to you, Jethro, but I think Penelope is your version of trying again with Jenny, trying the relationship you could never have with her because of work, and because of her passing."
Jethro's shoulders deflated. Surprisingly, the Doctor was making sense, and maybe if Penelope Leonard was actually real that would be what he was doing. He looked past Ducky and saw that their conversation had woken Jenny up and she had managed to creep downstairs unnoticed. His hands curled, knowing he should motion for her to go back upstairs, head to the basement and just be out of the way. But he couldn't do it.
"Ducky, that's not it at all."
"Jethro, I know it's a lot to take in, but-" his words stopped as he realised Jethro wasn't looking at him, but something behind him. Ducky cursed as he realised Penelope must have come to see Jethro, and once again he had cocked things up for his friend. He turned around to introduce himself, but stopped before any words could come out.
Standing in front of him was someone he didn't think he would ever see again. He swallowed hard as he took in all angles of Jennifer Shepard. Her hair was no longer highlighted blonde, but the rich red he remembered from when she had been an agent. She was a little older, but her eyes sparkled. Ducky watched as a single tear dripped down her cheek, followed by a few more.
He took a few stumbling steps over to the young woman. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a handkerchief. He wiped the tears falling over her cheeks at the sight of him, and he smiled at her.
He took the trembling woman into his arms, clinging onto her close. A hand buried itself in her hair, and the other stroked her back as he felt his collar grow wet with her tears. Ducky held on, not quite believing that she was there, that she was alive and well. He slowly turned them to see Jethro, who was smiling at the sight of them both.
Eventually they broke away, and Ducky once again took his handkerchief to Jenny's face. When she had been an agent, they had been so close. She had just lost her father; and much like Abby had become with Jethro, Jenny had become like a daughter to him. They had grown apart, but Ducky had never stopped thinking of the redhead who loved his stories.
"Yeah, Duck?" Jethro couldn't stop smiling at them.
"Feel free to disregard everything I just said."