Flashbacks of a Fool by DD Agent
I do not own NCIS or any of its characters, or its settings - all belongs to the lovely folks at CBS.
This is a sequel to "Meet the Parents" and the first in the "Shepards Series" - where Jasper is actually alive and Jenny's family find out [or already know]. Its taken me a while to figure out where I want to go with this series, but I've got some strong ideas! I'm really happy with how this came out - and really happy where things are going to go from now on. Just a word of note - in "Meet the Parents", Jenny's mother was dead. That's changed for this story [and will be changed for MtP shortly]: they got divorced instead. Because, lets face it, you want to see that reunion.
Hope you all enjoy it!
He watched her from the gates, watched as she sat in the corner of the play area alone. It was her first day in American childcare, and he could see that his baby girl wasn't getting on well at all. In France, she had been the most popular girl in the group - her kind nature had been loved by the girls, and her bright red hair and dazzling eyes had hypnotised several of the boys. Anna had told him that Jenny had come back one day pouting about how she had been kissed three times on the cheeks by the boys in her play group.
One of the girls kicked a ball past her and Jenny jumped up, her green dress getting a little dirty. He could see the fear in her eyes, the worry that her mother would tell her off for being so blasé with her clothing. Jasper then watched as his daughter returned to the corner of the play area where she had built a nest, reading a book that was high above her supposed reading age. He had always known his beautiful daughter would be a smart child - at six years old she was now bilingual in both French and English, and her grandmother was teaching her Italian whenever they visited.
"Can I help you?"
One of the day care workers was standing beside him. She smiled at his army uniform, before frowning at the bandage covering his neck. Bullet wound in Vietnam - he would heal. He hoped his family would too - he had been absent for eight months fighting a war when all he wanted was to spend time with his little girl and his beautiful wife. He was a very lucky man - he had those things to go home to.
"I'm Jennifer's father. I've come to take her out for the afternoon."
He removed an ID and the woman nodded before going to get Jennifer from her corner on the floor. The day care worker whispered something to the tiny redhead and her eyes shot up, searching for her father.
Jenny, his Jenny, barrelled from the floor and straight to the gate. He opened it just in time to catch his little girl as she launched herself at him. He held her tight, wanting to cling onto her forever. She clung back, tracing the edge of his jaw with her fingers. She couldn't believe he was there, that he was back home with her after so long.
"How long are you home?"
"For you, Princess, forever."
The other children watched their embrace. It wasn't a military day care - they were not on base here. If it was, he knew there would be some jealous faces amongst the children. Instead, there were curious ones and the only one he cared about. His beautiful baby girl.
Jasper Shepard woke up from his dream, remembering times so many years past that they were now taught in school. He ran a hand through his grey crew cut and tried to figure out what had woken him, other than the distant burn of old memories. He could hear giggling across the hall, a sound he knew like the back of his hand. Then there was a bump and another giggle, and Jasper had to resist the urge to rip that marine off his daughter and beat the hell out of him.
Sighing, he threw on his dressing gown and decided to head downstairs for a drink. Jenny kept a bottle of scotch in what was now her study for him. The rest was bourbon, a bad habit she had picked up from that boyfriend of hers. As he closed his door silently, he could hear whispering coming across from what had once been the bedroom he had shared with his wife.
"I really think you should be the one to tell him, Jenny."
A creak in the bed. "You said you wanted to be the one to do it. I thought you'd take great pleasure in it."
A snort. By god, he hated that marine. "Oh believe me, Jen, I'd love to. But you're not the only one who's got to answer to a parent."
The giggle was back. "Aww…did little Leroy Jethro Gibbs get told off by Daddy?"
"He said you should tell your Dad we're engaged. Thought it would be better coming from you, and he's right, Jen. Your relationship is not going to improve if he finds out you're engaged via a pissing contest between the two of us."
Jasper didn't stay to hear any more of their conversation. He didn't want to hear how long his daughter had kept being engaged from him, and worse, what she really thought of him now. He wasn't the greatest father in the world, but he was far from the worst. He had been a wonderful father to Jenny before Anna had taken her away from him. He had never really got a chance to know Heather, but he had tried his best with his youngest child.
Down in the kitchen, he looked out of the window onto the garden. His little girl was going to get married. He started to smile, thinking of what he could have missed had he stayed away, had he not got his own talk from a parent and returned to his daughter. His baby girl, his Jenny, was going to get married. She might even decide to try for grandchildren.
He heard a creak on the landing, and knew that Jenny would be on the stairs very soon. He knew every inch of the house, knew every dodgy floorboard, every hiding spot. Jasper also knew she would be coming to talk to him about being engaged to the marine. It was funny - every boyfriend Jenny had brought home had been loved by her mother, but not by her father - the ones he had met anyway. Yet the marine, a perfect example of the man he should approve of, was the last on his list of possible husbands.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs was a dangerous man in Jasper's eyes, because he had the ability to completely break his daughter. She loved him too much, and he knew where love like that led. It didn't matter that the man was a marine; it didn't matter that he would protect his daughter with his dying breath. He had the ability to break his daughter's heart in such a way that she would never recover. After all, he still hadn't.
"Jenny, sand with the grain."
Jasper watched as his baby girl moved with the sander on the planks of wood in the back garden. He didn't want her to get any splinters when she climbed into the tree house he was building for her. It would be a place she could go to escape her mother's guests, and the building was something they could do as a family.
"What sort of ladder is it going to have?" Jenny asked, sawdust on her cheek. He grinned and watched as his wife moved from the kitchen door and used her sleeve to wipe the dust off their daughter's face. Although she was a Daddy's girl through and through, Jenny loved her mother dearly. He watched as they embraced, Anna's hand stroking Jenny's hair.
Once Jenny was back sanding, he took the beer that Anna offered him. "Well I don't know Princess. We could have a rope ladder, or I could build you stairs out of wood."
Without reason, Anna moved over to him and wrapped her arms around him. They watched as Jenny ducked her head, red hair spilling over her face as she avoided what she knew was coming. He kissed his wife, half of the unit that had kept him going in Vietnam. He buried his nose into her red hair, the same colour his daughter had. She was the perfect union of both of them: as well as her mother's red hair, Jenny had his eyes. They laughed and kissed again as they watched Jenny place her hands over her ears.
"Well, little miss, it depends if you want to hide from us or not," her mother teased.
"Are you going to keep kissing all the time?" Jenny pouted, a pout that her grandmother would be proud of.
Jasper laughed. "All the time, Princess. You'll be like that someday, if I let you out of this house long enough to date!"
Anna threw him a warning look, but Jasper just shook it off. She knew he was somewhat joking - any man interested in their daughter would have to go through several military hoops to be let near her, let alone what he would do as her father. Thankfully, Jenny didn't seem interested in boys. All the girls at the day care centre she went to did, but not their little one. There was only one man in her life, and it was him.
"Ouch!" Jenny followed through with a curse in Italian after she caught a splinter in her finger, and Jasper chuckled at the second look Anna threw him. He'd have to have words with his parents the next time he called them.
"That's why we sand them down, Princess." Jasper took her hands and moved with her and the sanding block. Such moments like this were few and far between, but they were beautiful all the same. He grinned at the kiss his daughter gave his chin.
Jasper turned from the window and looked at his little girl all grown up. Gone were the pyjamas with cats and butterflies on them - she was wearing negligees and silk gowns that he was sure the marine appreciated. Her hair had always been long, and he was glad she had grown it out from when she had cut it six years ago. It now clung to her face, making her appear younger and softer. She would never be the Director of NCIS to him, but in this kitchen she was most definitely just his daughter.
"Hey Princess. Did I wake you?"
She shook her head and sat down at the kitchen table. He remembered buying that with Anna so many years ago, arguing over furniture while a little redheaded scamp tried hiding in cabinets. Jasper could see she was struggling to get out what she needed to say, what she needed to admit. So he decided to do what he had always done when his daughter had been troubled.
He moved two bowls from the cupboards and two spoons and sat them on the work top. He then went to the fridge and pulled out the doughnuts he had bought while getting a coffee and a paper that morning. Splitting them between the two bowls, he then pulled vanilla ice cream out of the freezer and scooped some up. Jenny jumped a little when he placed the bowl in front of her.
He stroked her hand before turning to his own ice cream and doughnuts - a Shepard family tradition started by his father, Jenny's grandfather. They dug in silently, enjoying the taste of the ice cream and the icing. He saw a smile appear on his daughter's face, something he hadn't seen directed at him since she had caught sight of the tie in his pocket when they had gone to dinner with the marine and his father almost two months ago.
No doubt the marine had proposed that night.
Jasper didn't know what to do. He disliked the marine for several reasons, the fact that he had pulled a gun on him twice being in the top ten. But most of all, he was fearful for his daughter's heart - he had loved so strongly once and only once, and he still loved her. The fact that he and Anna had been divorced for over thirty years had never changed his love for her, or the love for their girls. He never wanted to see the pain he had gone through on his daughter's face.
The ice cream and doughnuts had loosened Jenny's lips, and she looked ready to speak. "Jethro proposed. We're getting married. I don't know when, or where. But we're getting married." Jenny pushed the bowl away, biting her lip, fearing his reaction. Both of them heard the creak as the marine eavesdropped outside, waiting for the yelling to begin. "Daddy…"
"What do you mean you're going back?"
His nine year old redhead was about to cause a scene in the small DC ice cream parlour he had taken her to. He was trying to explain to his baby girl that the war was still not over, and he had to return to Vietnam. After getting injured in his last tour, she didn't want him to go. He didn't want to leave her either - but she had her mother and a tree house where she could take all her new friends into. More new friends - they had lived in another two bases before returning to DC. He was growing tired of this life, and tired of the pain he was causing his family but he couldn't quite leave the army just yet.
"I have to, Princess."
Her green eyes filled with tears, and it almost broke him. He hated to see her cry, couldn't stand to see such innocence weep. "But why? Can't someone else go, can't you tell them that you're needed here! I've got my meet next week, you promised!"
He gulped. "I know, Jenny, and I am so sorry to miss you swim. You'll be incredible, Princess. You have your battles to face, and I have mine."
"My swim meet won't result in me with a bullet through the back of my head!" Jenny hissed. Her spoon was leaving a sticky ice cream residue on the table. Her tears were leaving a track on her pale cheeks. She wrapped her arms around herself. "I want to go home. Take me home please."
He wrapped his daughter in her red coat and brushed her hair out of the collar. Just as they were heading to the counter, she turned and pressed her face against his chest. He picked his baby girl up and used his scarf to wipe away her tears. She cuddled against his neck.
"Listen to me, Princess. No matter what happens to me, I'll always come back to you. That's a promise. You understand, Princess?"
"You'll always come back to me."
He looked her dead in the eyes, and stroked her cheek. "Always."
"I don't like him."
He spluttered the words out without thinking. Jenny just nodded, bracing herself for a speech about how the marine would break her heart, how he would ruin her life. Seeing that look made him finally overcome his arrogance and realise that he couldn't play the doting father anymore. It was he, Jasper Shepard, who had broken his daughter. It was the marine who had brought her back together.
His legs felt weak as he reached out for Jenny. He clung onto her, pressing his face into her hair. He could feel her tears on his shoulder, and he held her tighter, not wanting her to cry over him anymore. He knew he had needed to be a better father when he had returned. It was only now that he realised how much harder he needed to try.
Breaking apart, he pressed a light kiss to her cheek. "I don't have to like him for you to love him, Jenny. You don't need my approval; you don't need me to give him permission for your hand."
She smiled, and she rested her hands within his. "I know, but I still want it. I don't want you to be disappointed in me for being with Jethro."
He needed to be a better father. He needed to make these years up to Jenny; he needed to finally have a relationship with Heather. He needed to repair all the damage.
"The only thing I'm disappointed in is that you didn't tell me when he proposed, Jenny, because it certainly wasn't upstairs." She shook her head. "I want you to be happy, Princess; want that more than anything in the world. I may never approve of your marine; we'll probably never go to football games or drink beers on the porch. But you love him, and I don't want to lose you again."
He could feel the tears on his pyjamas again as his daughter clung to him, needing his comfort. "Don't worry, Dad. You'll always come back to me," he heard whispered in his ear. He broke their hug and turned to his beautiful daughter. "You definitely proved that. And whatever happens, I'll always be here for you. I love you."
The kitchen door opened and the marine nodded to him, happy to have his support. Smiling, Jenny kissed him goodnight and went back to bed with her fiancé. Jasper watched them go, before turning to his bowl and moved, with his bottle of scotch, into the study. He heard laughter upstairs, but this time he didn't frown.
In the study, he dallied with what photo album to take off the bookshelf, but didn't think he could deal with photographs of Anna and his girls. The wounds still hadn't healed. So he took one of Jenny's, and amused himself with pictures of her and the marine, of her friends in NCIS. She had moved on into a life where she was happy, and he had never been prouder of his daughter.
He would probably never approve of the man who was sleeping with his little girl, but Jasper had to admit he was the right man for her. At least Jenny would be happy that a sort of truce had been brokered between them. It was the right thing to do - they all were tired of the serious arguments over trust and suitability that occurred over the breakfast table.
Of course now, Jasper realised as he sipped his scotch, he could do all the horrible but amusing things he had been planning to do to Jenny's boyfriends but had never got the chance to. For the first time that evening, Jasper Shepard really smiled.