Truth Too Late 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 my second NFA Challenge Entry, and its for the Five Times Challenge. Writing this made me cry, its not a happy fic. And its ridiculously in canon, which isn't like me. Oh, and please check out the new Jibbsfest entries at the 'Jibbsloversunited' account. Not only is there some epic summer fic posted there, but I have a sequel to 'All My Dreams Torn Asunder' up there. : )
Five things that Leroy Jethro Gibbs never knew about Jenny Shepard
She came from a very military family.
Her funeral was intended to be a state affair, as one would expect considering it was the Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who was being buried. The President and his wife were in attendance, several important members of both administrations had come to pay their respects. The Directors of the CIA, the FBI, even the NSA had come to pay tribute. In amongst the most powerful men and women of the world, Jethro stood there with the rest of his team.
All wearing black and mourning the loss of a woman they barely knew. That they loved, but barely knew.
Jethro was holding a rose in his hand, waiting to place it on the coffin of the woman he loved. No one else was holding a rose, or anything to place as a sign of respect. Across the cemetery, he could see Jenny's family. Or what he assumed to be Jenny's family, having never met them. One man, standing away from the small mourning throng, wore a hat and a lingering gaze of disgust over the coffin. As the hat tilted, Jethro got his first good look at the man.
Deep green eyes with a range of emotions, and a strong jaw that he had only seen in photographs.
The service ended, and his team made their way out of the cemetery and towards the cars waiting to take them back to the Navy Yard. The woman behind Jenny's death was dead; the people who had shot and killed his partner had never got out of that diner alive. Jenny's family didn't stop to talk to any of his team like Kate's had - he doubted they even knew who he was. It was that, more than anything, that made him want to weep.
One final look over Jenny's anonymous family told him where she had got her stubborn streak from, her ability to rise to any occasion and to new heights. Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines. There were more badges there than on those making the salute.
"It's Jethro, isn't it?"
Jethro looked up to find the man in the hat. The hat had come off, and was pressed against his chest. He looked much older up close than Jethro had suspected, and the green eyes that were in fact Jenny's were full of tears.
"Yes sir. Did Jenny-I didn't know much about her family," he said honestly, not sure what else he could say. He didn't know them, why should he dare presume that they knew anything about him and his love for the woman now being dropped into the ground?
The man sighed and patted Jethro on the arm. "I'm Jenny's grandfather, Jonathon. I was the only one she was close to, after her father passed away. She would write me letters, telling me about NCIS, and you. Always about you."
A smile broke through onto his face. He hadn't felt entitled to his grief in front of her family until now. "I loved your granddaughter, Jonathon. We had…problems, but I loved her."
Jonathon started to weep. Jethro had to grip onto the elderly man's shoulder to stop him falling to the grass. "Years ago, I had to bury my wife. Then I had to bury my son, Jethro. And now I've had to bury my granddaughter." Jonathon clutched a handkerchief against his face. "I have no one left."
Jethro gripped onto the man, not sure what else he could do. They were the last two mourners left. Everyone else had abandoned them. But Jethro couldn't abandon Jenny's grandfather, not when they were each other's last part of her.
She was no prom queen, she was a jock.
A former Marine turned teacher had been killed at a private school in Washington DC. Tony and Ziva were off collecting evidence; now thankfully back on his team after Vance had sent them away. McGee was trying to break into the school's computer system and see what the teacher's encrypted laptop could give them. The headmaster was giving Gibbs a rough tour, trying to help him understand that none of the childrencould ever do such a thing, and neither could the wonderfulteachers who worked there.
"You know, your former Director was a pupil here. I remember teaching Jenny Shepard."
Gibbs looked up at his words, not quite believing that another slice of Jenny Shepard had landed in his lap. He had kept in contact with Jonathon Shepard since the funeral, and was hoping that he could go out and meet him in his home in Rome soon to see how he was getting on. But this was something that the old man couldn't tell him about his partner: this was about a teenage Jenny.
They passed by a trophy cabinet, one of the ones from years ago. Jethro peered in, fascinated by the range of medals and trophies that were on display. Several of them were all thanks to one particular redhead. There were photographs too, and Jethro looked in awe at a young Jenny with her team mates after winning the Regional Track Finals. He smiled at one of her in a swimming costume, the smile the start of that grin he recognised as hers. She looked so alive in that picture.
"Do you have any yearbooks from the year she graduated?" Jethro asked, growing more intrigued by this new portrait of Jenny Shepard that was being painted.
The headmaster nodded. "I do believe we have."
Later on, once the case was solved and all his team had gone home, Jethro made sure he was alone in the bullpen. There he pulled out the yearbook he had taken from the school. They could bill him, he didn't care. He just wanted another piece of Jenny to add to the rather pale collection of a woman who was almost a ghost.
He turned the crisp pages, the first section of the yearbook empty of messages. He wondered whether Jenny had had plenty of messages written on hers from teammates, friends, possibly boyfriends. He didn't think Jenny had kept her yearbook, she would have probably felt as out of sorts there as she had done in FLETC. She was always searching for something, and she had found it at NCIS.
He skipped through the pages until he found the ones about Prom, Homecoming and all the dances he had avoided at his high school. Jethro expected Jenny to be Prom Queen. Pretty, fashionable, and definitely political enough to be one of those on the Queen's court. But instead it was a nameless woman, with a nameless date.
Back through the pages, he found a picture of Jenny at the dance. Tucked into the background, knees up to her chin as she hugged herself through the no doubt badly coloured dress of that time. She wasn't dancing, didn't seem to have any date with her. People said that high school was the best years of their lives, but it wasn't for him and it didn't look like it was for Jenny. Despite the happiness painted in the sports she played alone, she was a lost young woman.
He flicked through to her profile at the back of the yearbook. Cute picture, he would have loved to have teased her about that. She did tons of sports: track, swimming, volleyball, softball. But it was her message that made him tear up, and reach for the bourbon in his drawer.
"I can't wait to see what the world has in store for me."
She checked their Paris aliases regularly.
They were down in the evidence locker, double checking over potential evidence that could have been tampered with. Well, his team were doing that. He was supervising, in his honorary role as a High School Principal between four adults who should know better. Of course, it was no different than what he had been like with Jenny and Stan and Will back in the good old days. Teasing and head slapping and him being the Principal but with a crush on the Student Body President.
"Hey Henry, is the vault still down here?" he asked on a whim, thinking about cases long since closed.
Henry, one of the evidence clerks, looked up at Gibbs' question. "Yeah, it is. No one goes down there much; no one really has the clearance."
Gibbs turned to his team, wondering whether he should continue his journey down memory lane. "Keep searching, and if I come back and anyone is bleeding, tied up or just notworkingI'll head slap you so hard your great grandchildren will grow up with lumps in their head!"
He walked out of the evidence locker, the bickering growing louder behind him. Children. He went through one of the doors of the basement and used the iris scanner to get through the next door. In the basement of the Navy Yard, right along from the evidence locker where only those with clearance could go was the Vault. Every deep cover assignment ended up there. Identification, travel papers - everything that was part of the legend. And each case was iris scanned too - Jethro could only access the cases he had been part of.
"Let's see who was down here last…"
Jethro flicked through the sign in sheet, trying to see who had last been in there to check out a file although it didn't tell him whichfile. He skimmed down the first few names until he got to the year before. He gripped the table when he read that Jenny had been down there one, two, three…six times last year alone.
"She was the Director; she could have gone into any number of boxes…"
Jethro couldn't believe that. He pushed away from the table and went alphabetically until he found the box with 'Vance' inscribed on the outside. He leant down and used the iris scanner, opening the drawer to him. Inside was a collection of five silver boxes, the five aliases that had been used in the operation centred around American couple John and Jemma Vance. By the lack of dust in the box, Jethro realised that Jenny had spent a lot of time in there, digging up the past.
"Oh Jenny. Why didn't you tell me?" He moved both their boxes onto the small wooden desk. "I would have come down with you, revisited Paris. Anything, I would have done anything knowing what I know now."
His box had remained untouched; the only thing missing was the wedding ring that he hadn't returned. Jenny hadn't been debriefed in DC like he had, so he didn't know when she would have had the time to return her identity to the small silver box. He opened hers with the key cellotaped to the top.
The drivers licence, travel papers, wedding licence and her wedding ring was in the box. Her engagement ring wasn't there, and Jethro wondered whether it had burned in Jenny's house along with the rest of her life. But amongst the belongings was something else that made Jethro wish that they had talked instead of argue. The single photograph of Paris, where she was pulling a stupid face and he was laughing, made him realise that although she had wanted to take the job and she never regretted moving on with her career, she at least regretted leaving him.
She visited him in Mexico when he was there.
He was in Mexico visiting Mike and his family, a small but desperately needed vacation. They were at a bar talking about what he had been up to at work, how things had been a little odd working with Vance. Mike had solved the situation by ordering more tequila. While he had been out at the bathroom, Mike had gone through Jethro's bag to see what he had brought to the 'happiest place on Earth'. What he had found was the file on Jenny.
"You want to explain, Probie?"
Jethro sighed as he retrieved the file from his friend. "Ever since Jenny's funeral, I keep finding out things about her. Little things, like where she went to school, what sports she did. She kept going back in the archives and looking up our old cases. I'm just trying to piece together parts of the woman I knew."
"Maybe you should just bury the poor girl, Probie. Leave the dead to rest."
They finished their drinks and Mike signalled for Camila to bring over a new round. Jethro was staring at a photograph of Jenny that Jonathon had sent him. He'd gone over for a long weekend to see the former Navy Admiral. It had been good to get to know the Jenny he didn't, and to be around someone who was missing her just as much as he was.
"I know her," Camila stated as she handed them their new drinks.
Mike looked up, confused. "How the hell do you know her?"
Camila shrugged before clicking her fingers and turning to Jethro. "When you were staying here all that time ago, she came visiting. Showed me your picture, I said you'd be in later. Stayed for a drink but left. Strange. You looking for her?"
Jethro put the photograph down on the table, and Mike put his head in his hands. "He's looking for something he ain't going to find!"
Camila decided to leave them to it, and Mike decided that if his former partner didn't buck his ideas up he was going to be in for one almighty head slap. Jethro was looking over the photographs like he was trying to put together a puzzle that wasn't quite making sense to him.
"She was here. She came looking for me that summer…dammit - this is what I'm talking about Mike! All these little things that if we had spent more time talking about than yelling at each other…she could still be alive. We could be…dammit I never thought any of my wives would be proved right. They always said I needed to be better at communication."
Mike laughed harshly and they continued to down their tequila. They would have to get home soon to Leyla and Amira, but one more drink wouldn't hurt. Just one more drink to dull the pain Jethro was feeling in his chest. So many wasted opportunities.
"I'm hitting the head."
When he got back from banging his head repeatedly against the mirror in the bathroom, his file was thankfully still there. Jethro was afraid that Mike would have burnt it or drowned it in tequila to make a point. But it was still there, still pristine. The way Mike was looking at him made him feel that he was becoming addicted to filling in the blanks about his relationship with Jenny Shepard. He supposed he was.
"Jethro, she's gone. You can't bring her back with pieces of paper."
He downed both his and Mike's shots of tequila. "I know, Mike. I wasn't there for her when she needed me and that killsme. But looking at these photographs, finding out she preferred track over drama club makes her alive for one momentlonger. I need that."
Even Mike couldn't begrudge him that.
She bought their safe house in Paris.
He was in Paris for the first time since he and Jenny had left the city. He was tracking a terrorist, a threat to the whole Navy. Vance had told him to take Tony and Ziva with him, and he had. But he had lost them at the airport, knowing that they would get the job done and leave him alone with his grief. First Jenny, now Mike. Unlike Jenny, there was no little ways of keeping Mike alive without making him feel haunted. But it was growing harder and harder to hold onto those moments of Jenny.
"Been a long time, Jethro."
Jethro looked up from his thoughts and found Jonathon Shepard standing in the middle of a Paris street. It had been two years since that visit in Rome. Jonathon had gone off on his own visit of the world to find his family in memories and long forgotten photographs, but they had kept in touch. The two men embraced.
"You keeping well?"
Jethro nodded. "Trying to, sir. Why are you in Paris?"
Jonathon smiled. It was the first time he had seen an honest smile on the man's face. "To find you, actually, Jethro. Don't look so alarmed, I have means and ways of finding anyone I want to. Years of working Intelligence. I was going through some things Jenny had left in my place in Rome. I finally felt I was ready to go through them. I found something with your name on it."
Jethro looked confused as Jonathon handed him an envelope. It wasn't Jenny's handwriting on the front, so he doubted it had been intended for him. Jethro wondered what it could be until he tipped the contents onto his hand. It was a small bronze key, the size and shape so very familiar to him.
"I have security clearance higher than your Director, so Jenny was able to tell me about the operations you both worked in Paris. She also told me that her first act as Director of NCIS was to buy the Paris safe house from the government. She…" Jonathon reached for his handkerchief. "She said it was your home together."
Jonathon put the handkerchief back in his pocket and turned to walk away. "Then it's yours. I don't deserve the memories in there. From what my granddaughter told me, no one stayed in that house after you. Apart from one night after we had dinner in Paris, before she went after her father's killer." He patted him on the shoulder. "Feel free to call, Jethro. Please."
Jethro didn't even wait for Jonathon to completely walk away before he hailed a cab to take him into the area of the city that had been part of his life for so long. The memories had haunted him, kept him alive, kept him in love. He raced out of the cab, almost forgetting to pay the driver. Jethro raced up the stairs, clinging to the bronze key in his palm. Every moment since her death had made him come back here, every new memory and discovery about how Jenny had lived and how she had loved him was leading him to this.
He stuck the key in the lock, resting one hand on the wood of the door. Mike's words flooded back to him. Jenny wasn't coming back. She wasn't waiting behind this door, waiting for him to join her and for them to run away together. Jenny was dead. This key was his closure, the true knowledge that no matter what, Jenny had loved him and cherished the years they had spent together in the apartment as husband and wife, lover and partner.
"I love you," Jethro rested his head against the wood. "I'll always love you."
He slipped the key in his pocket. He could always return to the apartment, but just the knowledge of what was behind that door was enough to keep him going. He had finally put his guilt to rest by realising no matter whether they had been together or not, Jenny would have sacrificed herself for him. That was who she was, that was how much she loved him.
He walked away, the key resting in his pocket. He had a job to do, and he was going to use every moment of the time Jenny had given him to do it well.