The Last Fifteen Years 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 idea came through in a conversation with missjayne, and its just tumbled into this fic. Its another 'What If?' fic - my favourite! What if Jenny and Jethro had never got together? Big thanks to missjayne and also to calliatra, who looked over the ending for me. Some of the lines in this have been borrowed from Picket Fences, an awesome show that I am just getting into. So Jenny's speech in the last third is not mine, its from that.
But anyway, hope you enjoy! :D
"You still here, Director?" Cynthia asked as she came into the NCIS Director's office and planted down a cup of coffee. She had known the Director had been in there for the whole afternoon, working up a reply to the FBI Director. Still, she liked to play along that her boss wasn't a workaholic.
"Yeah, I'm still here Cynthia."
Will Decker turned away from the window to look at his assistant. He brushed his dark hair back, trying to act nonchalant in front of Cynthia. He wanted to appear that nothing was bothering him, which was further from the truth then he cared to admit. Even more so, he was trying to stop her recognising something in his face. Admiration…and adoration.
"You should head home at a decent time, Director," Cynthia chastised, placing another file on his desk and shaking her corkscrew curls. "Special Agent Shepard is waiting for you outside, shall I send her in?"
Cynthia beamed at him, and Will had to undo his tie a little. Cynthia Sumner had no idea what she did to him, how those cute and endearing smiles made him feel, how the way she took care of him and offered him condolences when he took every Agency decision to heart made him feel like the most loved man in the country. She probably had no idea that her supposed lady killer boss was in love with his assistant - a cliché that almost made him want to head slap himself. She had no idea that the reason he stayed so late was to be so close to her.
He grinned at Cynthia, swallowing his nervousness. "A wonderful idea. Thank you, Cynthia."
She smiled at him again as she closed the door behind her. As soon as it was shut, he did the honours and head slapped himself. Will shoved himself away from his desk and headed to the cabinet in the corner. He unlocked the heavy doors and looked down at the little world he had created for himself, trying to lose himself with fantasy in the face of so much desperation. He picked up the little Lego Doctor and River Song figures and looked at them.
"Now you two have no problems - it's just chemistry, chemistry, save the world, make out in a prison cell." He sighed. "Why can't things be like that for me?"
"Now I bet the Director of the FBI would love to see that."
Will turned around to see Special Agent Jennifer Shepard enter his office, grinning at her old friend. He opened the bottom of the cabinet up and threw her a bottle of water from the fridge he kept there. She caught it easily enough and sat in the chair opposite his desk. Will patted the heads of his Lego figurines and locked the cabinet, before moving over to his Director desk. The desk he had never really wanted, but had decided that someone responsible should have.
Jenny kept looking towards the cupboard, a smile on her face that he hadn't seen in quite some time. "Don't look at me like that Shepard. Unlike my predecessor, I don't drink."
Jenny grinned, thinking of many a time when she, Will, Stan and Jethro had ended up being thrown out of a bar. "Liar. You just don't drink on the job."
Will shrugged. "True. But I'd rather use my cupboard to hold my Who Lego than bottles of Vodka." He sat back at his seat and looked in his old friend. "How are you doing, Jenny?"
She snorted, thinking about how much of a loaded question that was. "You've got the report from Kate's sister…read it."
Will turned to the file that Cynthia had handed him. He skimmed the report, noting with satisfaction that Jenny was ready to work. He personally disagreed with what their staff shrink reported. He didn't think Jenny was in any way ready to go back to the high pressured job she adored.
"Jen, I know you think you're ready to get back to work," Will started, before taking a glance at Jenny's face. She looked like she was going to kill him if he didn't let her go back to work. But he was going to hang steady on this, he wouldn't let himself be intimidated by Jenny. "Look, you never took any bereavement leave when Agent Todd died, none of you did. After Leon Vance died, none of you did again."
Jenny looked up at him pointedly, trying to make him see that she didn't need any more time. She had had her fill. "That's because you all sent us off to find a mole in NCIS."
Will shook his head, taking a sip of his water. "That's not entirely true. I sent you out in the big wide world to find the bastard that killed Leon. And you did! Took three years and he turned out to be one of our own, but you did."
His hand automatically went to his shoulder where he could still feel the knife wound there. His eyes grazed over Jenny's palm where she had similar wounds from McAllister's knife. She and Jenny had been through a lot of things together; when they worked as team mates and now when he was her boss. He knew she would always have his back - and now he needed to make sure she knew he had hers.
"So we haven't taken time off…we work through things. That's what we do, there's nothing wrong with that," Jenny admitted, wringing her hands.
She looked at him, her green eyes burning into his. She had been with Gibbs too long. Fifteen years as partners…he couldn't imagine being with someone that long. There was a reason why the older agents called them the Old Married's of NCIS. Gibbs was half the problem - he didn't like to grieve so his team didn't like to either.
"Jenny, you lost two people in a relatively short space of time. You lost Mike, who you were close to. And, Jenny for god's sake you lost your husband. I honestly don't think three months is enough time for you to get over that loss."
Why was everyone trying to tell her how to grieve? She expected better of Will, she really did. Jenny thrust herself out of her chair and turned towards the conference table. She'd had her fill of bereavement leave, she'd sat at home and drunk herself into a stupor and attended his funeral. But now, now was her time to go back to work and do something with the rest of her life.
Will didn't know why she was acting this way; it was almost as if she didn't care about her husband at all. He knew it wasn't the happiest marriage, and probably not the most loving, but he never considered Jenny to be someone full of such malice to not even care that her husband had been killed.
After a few moments, Jenny turned around, her arms around herself. "Will, I don't need the extra month. Hell, I didn't even need the three. I don't need your widow benefits; I don't need the money I'm getting from Lucas' estate. I don't feel like a widow, because in my mind I'm not. If Jonas Cobb had killed Lucas two days later I wouldn't have been. I'd been a divorcee with a dead ex husband."
And that was the kicker. She and Lucas had been in the process of getting a divorce when he had been murdered; had been separated for over a year when he had died. She had loved Lucas, he had been a good man and he had loved her back. But they had got married for the wrong reasons, she had loved him for the wrong reasons and he deserved better than her. She hated herself that he had never got his chance to truly be happy.
When Jenny looked up next, Will was handing her a glass of bourbon. She took it, smiling, and sipped it. "That's Jethro's," Jenny gestured to the alcohol. "He'll kill you."
He shrugged. "It's for a good cause. Jen, why didn't you tell me you and Lucas were getting a divorce?"
Jenny sighed. "Will, no offence, but it was none of your business. And if it makes you feel any better, even Jethro doesn't know."
Will sucked in a breath. This was bad, and exciting, and complicated all in one go. He had known Jenny and Jethro for fourteen years, and they had never kept any secrets from each other. They were best friends, and for Jenny not to have told him she was getting a divorce, there had to be a pretty good reason behind it.
Jenny's nose wrinkled, a tear finding her way down her nose. "He did. I came back from going to Mexico to rescue Gibbs' sorry ass from the Cartel and found my bag packed. He was kicking me out, for the simple reason that I wasn't at home much anyway."
Will sighed, looking up at Jenny with all the sympathy he could manage. "I'm sorry, Jenny."
"The real blow was when he told me he was tired of waiting for me to fall in love with him. That it was obvious that I was in love with someone else, and he was tired of being a fool." Jenny sighed, remembering that conversation in vivid detail. She cared, how could she not? But there was a part of her that agreed with Lucas' words. "I didn't tell Jethro, because he'd get involved and the last thing I needed was Lucas going head to head with him."
Will slumped in the seat next to Jenny. "Monday. You can go back to work Monday, but on one condition."
"What?" Jenny asked, resting the glass close to her mouth. She'd do anything to get back to work and just out of the guilt filled tornado she was swirling in.
"Tell Gibbs. I know you've barely spoken over the summer, he's been grieving Mike and wanted to give you space. But you two need each other, so talk to him."
Will Decker finished off the rest of his glass of bourbon and handed Jenny the bottle. He didn't want that stuff in his office, he was quite happy with his water and his secret collection of Lego figures. He moved over and wrapped an arm around Jenny, watching as she leant into his hug. They were still close, despite him being her boss. Both of them were glad for that.
"Will, how…how long can two people not say something to one another?" Jenny trembled, wondering if she should just keep her mouth shut and not broach the subject of her and Lucas' final conversation as a married couple. But it was too late now.
He shrugged, knowing exactly what Jenny was referring to. They were about fourteen years too late for that revelation, and three marriages had been ended because of one thing left unsaid. "Jen, be careful. You're both wrecked, trying to allow yourself not to grieve when you should be. Don't say things that will change everything because you're not certain of what else to say."
She hadn't called him that since their time in Europe. Since he had watched his two friends dance around each other, run through the continent entwined in each other but never breaking rule twelve. He couldn't understand how they had lasted fifteen years without even so much as a kiss. As Jenny left his office, wondering the same thing, Will hoped that both of them found what they were looking for and it lasted as long as their friendship.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs had had a bad week. It had been a bad summer - the heat had made everyone crazy and he had been sat next to an empty desk for three months. Sometimes he wondered if Jenny was dead too. But he knew he had to give her space to mourn her husband, the husband that he had been jealous of from the moment the two of them had met. It was after Lucas' funeral, and the looks he had got from his family as he had held Jenny at the grave of her husband, that had made his decision to stay away from her easy and clear.
He walked into his house, the door always unlocked. He didn't know anyone was in the house until he moved down into the basement and caught a whiff of Jenny's perfume. He knew the scent from memory alone - she had never changed her perfume in the years he had known her. She liked the French perfume, and he liked it too. She smelled like fresh rain.
"You're building another boat," Jenny greeted from inside the husk of his new creation, admiring his handiwork. She had always been impressed by what he could do with his hands.
He nodded as he walked down his basement steps. "Yup. New boat."
She was wearing jeans, heels, blouse. She looked like she had just come from work rather than from grieving at her home. Her red hair was pulled in a loose ponytail, and there was food and beer on his work bench. He grinned.
"You brought me food. I've missed you, Shepard." He moved over to the food, happy to find cold beer and hot burgers. He'd been craving burgers all day - Jenny had always been good at figuring what take-out he wanted. Unlike Fornell, who never seemed to get it right. There was a reason why Jenny was his best friend.
While Jethro dug into the burgers, Jenny examined the boat. She had always loved boats, and had always been fascinated by wood - her father had always been building things when she was a child. Her hands moved over the wooden spine, drawing over the beams. So simplistic and strong. Her finger caught in a splinter and she cursed, immediately drawing her finger into her mouth. She caught his gaze, and watched as he smiled a little at her.
"Who are you going to name this boat after?"
"Hadn't thought about it yet." Which was true, he hadn't. He'd only been building it as something to do. He tossed Jenny her burger as she came to lean next to him. "Started it during my bereavement leave. Decker give you another month?"
Jenny ignored him, not wanting to talk about her grief. "You should name it after someone you like." He watched her, confused. She took a bite of her burger and turned to him again, smirking. "So you can keep it. Let's face it; of the boats you've started you've never kept one of them. When we first became partners - you called it Diane and you burned it."
Jethro rolled his eyes. "'She', Jen. The boat is a she. Not 'it'."
"Whatever. You built another boat after you married Stephanie. You took a hammer to that one the night she left you." He didn't want to have this conversation with Jenny. He hadn't seen her all summer, and now they were walking through his romantic history. Not a good start to what could have been a very pleasant evening. "Then there was the 'Kelly', which you gave to your goddaughter. Which ended up with bodies shot to bits on it. Then, who could forget the 'Hollis'?"
He cracked open a couple of beers and passed one to Jenny. She took it happily, knowing she had touched a nerve as she mentioned Jethro's' recent ex wife. "You helped me destroy that one, remember?"
"Well you seem to have so much fun destroying them; I wanted to see what all the fuss was about."
He laughed and leaned back against the work table. He had missed Jenny Shepard so much. They spent so much time together; it was awful when they spent long distances apart. The summer when he had gone to Mexico had been a huge blow - he had spent most of the time talking to Mike about his relationship with Jenny, and how much he had missed her. Jenny, on the other hand, seemed to deal with their distance in a different way. She had married Lucas while he had been in Mexico.
"So - back to your leave. When can I expect my favourite Agent back?"
Jenny smiled at him. He couldn't help but smile back at her. It was infectious. "Monday morning."
He could feel the heat coming off of Jenny's gaze as he turned his back on her. He scrunched up the spent burger wrapper and dropped it to the work bench. He took a gulp of his beer, and waited for the inevitable explosion from his partner. He knew it was coming; Jenny had never been able to hold her tongue, especially around him.
"You're kidding, right? You're going to push Decker to keep me home for another month?" She had expected this from home. After Kate and Leon's death he had nearly forced her to take some time off, to just spend a few days at home thinking and having the space to deal with the grief. He never did, and Jenny felt that was hypocritical. She hadn't been his Probie for a damn long time.
Eventually he summoned the courage to turn around and look into those green eyes. "Jen, you forget. I've been where you are, I've lost a spouse. You can't get over it quickly!"
"Really? You seemed to get over it quickly when you married Rebecca."
He slammed the beer down and stormed into Jenny's face. His redhead was storming for a fight, and he was damned if he knew why. He hadn't seen her in three months, not since Lucas' funeral. He just wanted to share a beer with her, maybe sand the boat together before watching her fall asleep on the small couch she had put in the corner of his basement for when she stayed over. Which she hadn't done in a long, long time.
"You're going to have to fill me in, Jen. What am I supposed to know? What are we supposed to be arguing about?"
Jenny deflated against the workbench, realising it was time to fill him in on what was going on. She just hoped he still counted as a friend by the end of it. "Promise you won't get mad at me?"
Jethro leant into her and lifted up her chin. His fingers stroked her skin, making her smile. Her perfume contaminated all his senses, it was growing harder and harder to control himself when she was around. It was another reason why he had kept himself away while she was grieving. Now she was, in the eyes of the law, single - he was afraid he would cross the line.
"Me and Lucas were getting a divorce."
He frowned. "When the hell did you file?"
Jenny sighed, knowing the worst was yet to come. She now realised she should have told him sooner. "He filed. I was too busy making sure the Reynosa's didn't blow a hole in your skull and I guess he just got tired of waiting home for me."
Jethro waved his hand at her, not quite believing this. He walked across the basement, beer still in hand and sat on the threadbare leather sofa. He couldn't believe Jenny had kept this from him and for an entire year too. They had always been close, especially after Europe. They had kept some secrets - Shannon and the Frog - but overall they had always been there for each other.
His relationship with Jenny had been the longest and most honest relationship he had ever had. She was the woman who at the end of a long day he knew he wanted to share a beer with. When they lost a case, she was the one he wanted in the elevator with him. Even his basement, off limits to most of his wives, had been open to Jenny. She had brought the sofa; she had installed the basketball hoop she used while he sanded. He couldn't believe she didn't tell him.
"This hurts, Jen. I can't believe you couldn't even tell me you were getting a divorce, that your marriage was breaking in half. How many times in thelast year have you slept on this couch, me worrying that Lucas would be wondering where you were?"
Jenny snorted, finding that entire statement so amusing. "Please. You never cared about Lucas; you never cared about my marriage. Damn it, Jethro, you kept me here night after night because you hated the idea of me going home to him. You were pissed as hell that I married him while you were in Mexico, and I am so glad I did."
"Always comes down to Mexico, doesn't it?"
"Of course it comes down to Mexico, Jethro. You left. You left us all, giving Abby your number. You know how much that hurt, to find out that you'd given your number to her over me? The ten years we'd been partners at that point meaning nothing to you?"
She slammed her beer down, walking over to the stairs. She stopped as she got to the banister, looking at him in the corner where he was sitting, angry as her. She had thought long and hard about the night he had left, about the night she had accepted Lucas' proposal. She had tried to tell herself the two things weren't connected, that she truly loved Lucas. And while a part of her did, she knew that she hadn't loved him enough to spend the rest of her life with him.
Jethro dropped his beer to the floor, shattering the glass. The left over beer foamed over the tile. "If I gave you that number, you'd have used it to call me back. Instead, you got married. You don't think I'd have wanted to be there, Jen? See you happy?"
She shook her head. This argument was well overdue. "Talk me out of it, more like." Jenny collapsed against the banister. "You want to know why I didn't tell you that me and Lucas were breaking up? Because I didn't want you coming to the house and beating the shit out of him. But more importantly, I was protecting you. Because if his lawyers called you up you could honestly say that I hadn't told you. Because Lucas was so convinced that we were having an affair."
The anger seemed to deflate out of both of them. Jethro walked over to her, resting his hand on the banister next to Jenny. He ran his hand over the wooden rails he had constructed, and looked at his partner, his friend. He sighed. "So, that makes…how many ex husbands and wives who have thought we've been having an affair?"
Jenny smiled a little. "Diane was sure, but you weren't married when we became partners. Stephanie - my god, she almost made you take that Moscow assignment just to get away from me."
He rested his hand against her cheek, stroking it gently. "Hollis…the night she kicked me out, she told me she knew exactly where I would go afterwards and the knowledge that I would go to you instantly made any marriage impossible." He sighed and rested his forehead against Jenny's. They exchanged soft smiles. "Want another beer?"
"Yeah, I do."
Jenny and Jethro were sitting on the sofa in his basement, on their fourth beer each that evening. Jethro had his arm over the back of the sofa, looking over Jenny with a smile that couldn't reach his eyes. She had her hand on the sofa next to where his leg was. She was enjoying being with him, she had missed him more than she had ever thought possible. But she had wanted to have her space, and wanted to let him grieve Mike.
"Jethro, are we going to be okay?"
He nodded and threw a light touch of his fist to her jaw. She giggled and leaned against the sofa. This is what she missed, just spending time with him, enjoying the few hours where they weren't at work and could just exchange a million old stories, just enjoying being in each other's company. Jenny moved her body so she was lying over Jethro, her head in his lap. He toyed with her hair, and Jenny felt herself relax.
"You know, I think this will be the first time we've both been single in quite some time. You've been with Lucas since - what - oh six? I divorced Stephanie in oh one. We had a good solid five years there."
Jenny looked up at him from her lap. "You're forgetting Vivien - that rich redhead who used to drive you around a lot. Now, her I liked. She had great taste in shoes."
Jethro went for her ribs, poking her there. She screamed in joy, wanting him to stop. God he had missed her. "You're forgetting about…what was that guy's name, that Army Major who kept wanting to play with you handcuffs?"
"Major Mark." Jenny wriggled in his lap, shying from his gaze and burying her head into him. She had missed this closeness, the feeling of being held. Lucas had never been one for it. "You also tried it on with that redhead whose mother cut up her boyfriend with a chainsaw. I had to have a very long conversation with Kate after that case - she was worried that you were sexually harassing me."
"It's not sexual harassment if you enjoy it."
She shifted up his lap painfully, and made sure she was full on straddling him, pressing him into the cushions of the sofa. He grinned as she threw both her arms around his neck, pulling him closer. They used to be like this, in Europe. Flirty and always touching, it had been part of their partnership just as much as the beer, the bourbon and the pranks had been. But once they had come back to DC, memories of what they had almost done in Marseille had put a kibosh on such actions. Then they had spent the last decade married or dating other people. Both of them found they missed being touched by the other.
"How are you doing, Jethro? Honestly? I'm so s-" Jenny was about to apologise for not being there when Mike had died when Jethro put his finger over her lip.
"Don't you dare, Shepard."
She smiled, and brushed her thumbs over his chin. "I miss Mike, Jethro. I think I miss Mike more than I miss Lucas. I'm not taking his money; I'm donating it to charity. I'm not taking widow benefits, either. It's not fair when there are people who actually need it." Jenny leaned in and pressed her head to his. "How awful is it that I needed the time after Kate, after Leon and yet I don't after my own husband dies?"
"You fell out of love with him."
Jenny shook her head, moving over him and thumping down to the sofa. "I never loved Lucas, let's face it. Not truly, whole heartedly, this is my soul mate kind of love. He loved me, wanted to marry me and so I deluded myself into thinking that I really loved him. I miss him, he was a good man and part of me did love him. But not enough." Jenny turned over her wrist and looked at her watch. "Shit! I need to go back to my hotel, clear the last of my stuff out. I'm finally moving back into my house. I can't wait."
Jethro pulled himself up from the sofa and wrapped an arm around Jenny. "You need me to help? We can spend the day…catching up. I think we need it. I know I need…"
"I need too," Jenny teased, kissing him on the cheek before walking over to rest once again against the banister rail. It felt good to talk about things with Jethro, admit how she felt about Lucas without being judged. Especially when there were other feelings stirring as well. "Hey, Jethro, you ever wonder what if?"
"I have a lot of what ifs, Shepard. Be more specific."
She giggled. "What if we had got together in Marseille? How would our lives have changed?"
Jethro dug his hands in his pockets, looking over her. He shrugged as he stood up. "We'd be…divorced."
As much as it pained him to admit it, he nodded his head. "I still wasn't over Shannon and Kelly, then. Any marriage would have failed, even with you."
Jenny nodded, accepting his answer. She had long ago resigned herself to her partner's complicated romances, and just went with them. It was easier for everyone that way. "You ever think about us…romantically? Everyone else does, I just wondered what you thought." She bit her lip, finally broaching the subject that had been ignored since a tiny, stuffy attic in France.
Jethro chuckled, moving in closer. His smile was wide. His blue eyes were rich. "Occasionally, I wonder. We've never denied that we're attracted to each other. You ever thought about what our first kiss would be like?"
Jenny nodded. "Realistically? Both of us would be scared to death of appearing to be more into it than the other. So the kiss itself would be incredibly tentative. Just very, very soft. Our lips would barely touch. They'd just sort of…rest against each other." Her face was screwed up in that expression he knew so well - she was playing with him. And he loved it. She watched as Jethro's eyes grew darker. "Then one of us - probably you - would use your bottom lip to lift up the other person's upper lip - probably mine - and then maybe our tongues would touch a little. But it would be so slight."
Jethro smiled and turned to Jenny. "So you haven't thought about it much at all, then?"
"Nope." Jenny beamed. She spoke the truth - both of them would be as awkward as hell trying to cross the friendship line after all this time. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jethro. Just come over to the house whenever. We can talk properly then." She rested her hand on his chest and kissed him on the cheek again. She loved being able to touch him. "Goodnight Jethro."
Jenny turned to walk up the stairs back to the main house. Jethro watched her get to the doorway before he spoke from the bottom, looking as crafty as she had a moment a go.
"That wouldn't be how our first kiss would go."
"No?" Jenny asked from the door, intrigued. "You got a better plan, boss?"
Jethro crooked his finger and she slowly descended the stairs while he spoke, illustrating the scenario for her. "Fifteen years is a long time to wait for a first kiss, Jen. Fifteen years of pent up sexual frustration, three failed marriages and countless relationships and yet you and me have stayed together. There'd be nothing tentative about our first kiss."
"No?" Jenny whispered as she reached the bottom step, facing against Jethro.
He shook his head. "No. It'd be here, in the basement. Too risky at work, too many pools going on. We wouldn't be arguing; we'd be just like we were on the couch. Touching, hands in places they shouldn't be. Then something would snap, and we'd cross that line that we both pretend doesn't exist with us. I'd push you up against the boat, and I'd have my mouth on yours, taking all your air. Hands would be everywhere, trying to cling onto something. We'd be desperate, desperate to make that moment last for as long as we could."
Jenny was so close to him, millimetres away from his mouth as he was talking. She could see him swallow. "We'd make it last, because we both know that everything we touch crumbles into ash."
That was when, for the first time since Mike Franks had died, Leroy Jethro Gibbs really accepted that he couldn't hold onto anyone. He clung onto Jenny, and she gripped back, her fingers digging into his shoulder blades as he tried to resist crying into the crook of her neck. She had wanted to talk about his grief, but he had pushed it aside. He couldn't do that anymore. They couldn't work through it anymore.
"You've got me, Jethro," Jenny whispered into his ear, clinging onto him so tight. "I'm not going anywhere, I promise. You think that I could have survived anything without you? Prague, Kate, being sick…I need you, Jethro. Everything else may be screwed up but this isn't. No matter who else or what else, you and me are always going to be together."
He pulled away from her, and pressed his forehead against hers. "Stay tonight, Jen. Stay with me."
Jethro moved away from her, his hand lingering down her arm. He walked up the stairs, his hand trembling on the banister. Just as he reached the door, Jethro turned back to look at her. He left the door open. Jenny swallowed, looking up at the possibilities, the crossroads in front of her. Smiling faintly to herself, she put one hand on the banister and walked upstairs.