Plot Synopsis: Elizabeth Gibbs is coming into her own, and she wants Jenny to be apart of that; she asks her to speak on feminist topics at a school even and, in an ensuing argument with Kelly, reopens unhealed wounds and learns something new about her mother; she also learns the value of perspective, and trying to understand the many ways different issues affect different people.
Kelly Gibbs checked her watch as her stepmother set a pitcher of lemonade on the table. She leaned forward to take the glass pitcher, and glanced at the door expectantly as she tilted it over her glass. Jenny rested her hand on Kelly's shoulder, squeezed, and bent to kiss her cheek.
"She's always late for dinner," she said lightly, shaking her head fondly as she sat down next to Kelly and pushed her long red hair behind her shoulders and down her back. She smirked, and gestured at the head of the table. "It drives your father crazy."
Gibbs grunted and glared at his own watch, reaching for the food laid out on the table—he was tired of waiting for his youngest daughter.
"I raised her better than that," he growled.
"You mean I raised her better than that," Jenny murmured, muffling her words in a cup of coffee.
Gibbs glared at her, and she gave him an innocent look as she sat the cup down and gestured to the food—Elizabeth was perpetually late for dinner because she had little will power when it came to dragging herself away from the soccer field, or the batting cages, or tennis—or whatever sport she was devoting herself to on any particular weekday.
Kelly laughed and eagerly began helping herself to dinner. Her eyes lit up in approval as she filled her plate, and she gave admiring looks to her father and stepmother.
"Home cooked meals are so important to me these days," she sighed.
She was home from Brown University for Spring break, and her time since Christmas holidays had been spent counting the days until she was home with her father's pulled pork and Jenny's baked macaroni and cheese, two things that were infinitely better than anything Brown's student cafes offered.
"Ah, that's why you came home," Jenny mused, "instead of running off on some wild Spring break shenanigan with your friends, hmm?"
Kelly nodded solemnly.
"For the food," she agreed, and then grinned, shaking her head. She picked up a fork and twirled it in her fingers. "I wasn't comfortable with the Panama City Beach thing," she admitted warily.
Gibbs snorted derisively; he wasn't comfortable with it, either, even if Kelly was nineteen years old and perfectly capable of making her own decisions—and within her rights to do so. He'd been relived when she decided to come home instead of road tripping down to Florida to get up to God knows what. It had been months, and he still hadn't quite adjusted to only having one daughter in the house. It had been difficult for him to have Kelly out of the house and out from underneath his protective eye, though everything indicated she had transitioned smoothly and happily into her new college niche.
If he'd had the notion that having one kid out of the house would make his life easier, he was disabused of that now; Elizabeth was twice as exhausting now that she felt entitled to the full attention of both parents, and he worried about Kelly twice as much now that he couldn't talk to her constantly.
The front door bounced open suddenly, and a breathless Elizabeth darted through, slamming it behind her. Two quick thuds were heard as she kicked off her cleats, and then she dashed squealing into the room and bounded over to Kelly, throwing her arms around her neck—Kelly had arrived home while Elizabeth was still at school, and she hadn't seen her yet.
Gibbs lunged forward to make sure Kelly's lemonade didn't spill, and Jenny leaned back to give the sisters room—Kelly laughed, and turned to the side, hugging her little sister, and Elizabeth beamed as she pulled back, wrinkled her nose, and tugged on Kelly's hair.
"It's so short!" she gasped.
"It's not that short," Kelly defended, reaching up to run her hands self-consciously over the trimmed edges of her thick auburn hair. She stroked the soft strands and watched Elizabeth eye her critically.
"Your hair was always at least to your elbows, this is definitely so short," Elizabeth argued, leaning forward and blowing on Kelly's bangs. Kelly swatted her away, and Elizabeth giggled. "It's layered, and the bangs—"
"You like it?" Kelly asked.
"Duh," Elizabeth retorted, releasing Kelly and stepped back. "It's so-phist-i-cated," she drawled.
Kelly grinned—she'd chopped off her long hair to just above her shoulders due to the amount of time she'd started spending in various science labs—and she liked the idea of a change. Her father hadn't recognized her at the airport, but he'd decided he liked it once he got used to it—though she was mostly concerned about her sister's reaction, naturally.
Elizabeth tore a thick cloth headband off of her head and then slipped it back on, gracefully pushing all of her loose strands of hair off her forehead and trapping them under the headband. She walked around to the head of the table and curled her hand into a fist, punching her father affectionately in the shoulder.
"Sorry I'm late, Dad," she told him dispassionately, as she collapsed in the seat next to him and across from Kelly.
"Supper is at the same time every night," he groused.
Elizabeth shot a look at Kelly.
"You think he'd make it an hour later, since I never get home at the right time," she said logically.
Jenny laughed, and leaned forward, raising up to pour Elizabeth some lemonade.
"Lizzy, don't test your father. He was short-handed at work today."
Elizabeth thanked Jenny for the lemonade and started eating, barely taking the time to swallow her food before she spoke.
"He's always short-handed now—like, who let McGee's and Tony's wives both have babies at the exact same time? McGee took paternity leave—totally badass, by the way—and Tony might as well, since he's always late or abandoning Dad with Franks, anyway—"
"Why don't you just agent up, Liz?" Kelly asked wryly.
Elizabeth pointed her fork at Kelly.
"Berkeley first," she said seriously.
Gibbs glared at her.
"Eat your peas," he ordered.
Elizabeth fell smugly silent and turned her attention to her food. Kelly grinned and sat back, shoulders straight, glad to be home even if it was for only a short period of time—she wished she'd have more time with Elizabeth, but their Spring breaks did not coincide, so there would only be the upcoming weekend.
"How are the wonder twins?" Kelly asked amiably, turning to her father—the two youngest agents on his team, Tony and McGee, had indeed welcomed children a mere three days apart, prompting Abby to christen them the wonder twins.
Kelly had only seen pictures, and she hadn't even met McGee's wife—it had apparently been, ah, a bit of a shotgun wedding, but he seemed thrilled.
"Ugly," Gibbs answered seriously.
"Jethro," admonished Jenny, giving him a look.
She shook her head, and arched an eyebrow.
"McGee's little girl can't shake an ear infection," she told Kelly, "and Tony's wife is a bit of a panicky mother," she added sympathetically.
Gibbs muttered something suspicious under his breath—he was tired of DiNozzo bailing on work three times a day because his wife was calling again freaking out about something and wanting him to come home and help—and again, Jenny shot him a glare.
"She is not a mental case, she's young," she corrected, and Gibbs managed to look sheepish. She rested her elbow on the table and pointed at her husband critically. "Joanne told me you accidentally put Kelly's clothing on backwards for a week straight when she was a baby."
Gibbs gave her a withering look, and Kelly giggled, sharing a look with Elizabeth. Elizabeth arched her eyebrow and pursed her lips sympathetically.
"Not so good at the Mr. Mom thing, huh Dad?" she asked.
"Aw, he was with you, Lizzy," Kelly assured her smugly, and then winked. "I showed him what was what."
"And I did the rest," Jenny added smugly, standing up. "Jethro, you want a beer?" He answered in the affirmative as she went into the kitchen to get more coffee – she really did drink coffee with everything – and she grabbed him one from the fridge.
She popped it open deftly on the kitchen table as she passed him, and he ran his fingers over hers as he took it, giving her a wry smile. She returned it, and resumed her seat next to Kelly, angling herself so she faced her whole family.
"You aren't eating?" Kelly asked.
"I had a late lunch with Abby, and I have to be at the precinct at eight," she said, checking her watch. "I'll take a plate of leftovers with me."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot you work nights sometimes now," she said, trying to orient her brain to the things that had changed since Elizabeth had gotten older and she herself had gone off to college.
There was no need for Jenny to be home or awake when Elizabeth got back from school now, so she'd forsaken her three a.m. to three p.m. shift in favor of more flexible hours; she generally worked when she was needed, these days.
"Oh," Elizabeth looked up, perking up suddenly. "Um, speaking of the precinct," she paused, looking sheepish, "uh, I volunteered to get a speaker for Sexual Health and Safety Awareness weak, and I—"
"Forgot to ask me until now?" Jenny finished wryly, arching her brows at her daughter.
She'd received a letter, with a permission slip enclosed, about activities of the upcoming week, and she'd been required to sign the slip to ensure Elizabeth was able to attend assemblies, see videos, talk to professionals, etc. She had done it gladly and turned it in days ago.
"Well, I was going to ask you to ask Judge Donnelly, but since I dropped the ball," she hesitated.
"Lizzy," Gibbs said, exasperated. "Jen's busy, you know, she doesn't sit around here all day waiting to cater to you—"
"I know, Dad, Jesus," Elizabeth retorted, rolling her eyes. She glared at him and then winkled her nose, tilting her head at Jenny. "If you have the time, could you speak at an assembly on Thursday?" she asked.
Jenny lifted her eyes, considering her schedule, shrugged, and nodded.
"I can ask Olivia to cover my shift," she agreed. "On what topic?" she asked. "Victim blaming, rape culture?" she prompted—she'd spoken once before to Elizabeth's classmates about sexual assault, but that had been when she was in middle school; she was a high schooler now.
Elizabeth shook her head.
"Nah, those topics are covered—my club puts it on, you know, all the programs—"
"What club?" Kelly asked curiously.
"Young Feminists," Elizabeth answered, and went on without missing a beat, "—and I told them I had connections to women working in Special Victims Unit, and Thursday is more about what to do in crisis situations—so the FCA has a woman talking about adoption and being a teen mother, et cetera—"
Kelly paused slightly, and looked at Elizabeth warily. She shifted her legs—and Gibbs shifted forward too, suddenly; his foot hit hers roughly; they both realized where Elizabeth was going.
"Lizzy," Gibbs growled abruptly, but she either ignored him, or didn't hear him.
"—so I wanted Judge Donnelly, you know, or Detective Benson, because I didn't really want to bother you, but yeah, basically I want you to cover abortion rights."
"Elizabeth!" Gibbs snapped loudly, startling her.
She blinked and looked over at him, her ponytail bouncing.
"What?" she asked, taken aback. She looked at him like he'd grown a second head. He was acting like she'd asked Jenny to cut out her heart or something.
Gibbs faltered, unsure what to say. He hadn't expected Elizabeth to bring up something like that at the middle of the dinner table, but considering this was Elizabeth, he shouldn't be surprised. She spoke her mind and she never censored herself, and while he encouraged that, this topic was not one he wanted thrown out casually.
Kelly sat back, pushing her fork into her macaroni warily. She looked through her lashes and Elizabeth, and then glanced at Jenny.
The redhead delicately placed her coffee mug on the table and curled her palm around it, choosing her words carefully.
"That is not my area of expertise," she said calmly.
"You don't have to be an expert," Elizabeth said blithely. "It's just to level out some of the crap the religious people are going to spew about rape babies being a blessing—"
"Elizabeth, we're eating dinner," Gibbs said shortly, interrupting her. He gave her a pointed look, willing her to take the damn hint, and Kelly sighed, tilting her head back.
Elizabeth shot him a look.
"I'm not being vulgar," she told him bluntly, sitting up defiantly. She turned back to her mother. "It's really important, Mom, you know, all these girls hear is how shameful abortion is and it's not that big of a deal—"
"What the hell do you mean it's not a big deal?" Kelly asked, fastening her eyes on Elizabeth quickly. She glared at her little sister, sitting forward quickly. "You can't seriously think it's not a very weighty decision," she snapped.
Elizabeth frowned, frustrated.
"Weighty decision, yes, but I mean there's such a stigma attached to it, and without me getting a speaker, no one's even going to hear that it's an option—and it is, it's been legal for years. I think it's important that there's a strong woman there to let young women know that it can be safe, and it's not necessary to carry a fetus to term if it's not your choice."
Kelly frowned, and clenched her fist.
"It's easy enough to say that when you dehumanize it," she hissed.
"Fetus," sneered Kelly distastefully. "Advocating killing fetuses is different than advocating killing babies."
"Kelly, don't tell me you're one of them," groaned Elizabeth, leaning back unhappily and folding her arms. She rolled her eyes. "It's not like we're some super religious family; it's just a mass of cells—"
Kelly's eyes flashed, and she leapt up.
"Elizabeth, you can't be that ignorant—"
"It's not even life until it's born—"
"I am a biologist, Elizabeth, don't sit there and presume you know the definition of life!" shouted Kelly. Her face flushed. "You'll acknowledge that weeds growing in the yard are biotic, but disparage the value of a growing infant? People will try and use viability of a baby to determine life, but with each advance in science viability gets earlier and earlier, so how dare you intimate that life only exists outside of the womb! You were alive in there! I used to put my hand on mom's stomach and feel you kick around when you were just a mass of cells!" she shouted.
Jenny reached over and touched Kelly's arm, swallowing hard.
"Kelly," she said softly. "You need to calm down. Sit down. Elizabeth," she said, her voice a little hoarse, "don't provoke her."
"I'm not provoking her," growled Elizabeth. "I didn't know my sister was such a freakin' bible thumper," she growled. "I didn't know she was one of those people who thinks it's okay to legislate women's bodies—"
"Elizabeth, be quiet," Gibbs ordered sharply.
Kelly and Elizabeth both ignored him.
"I'm not! I'm offended by the terminology you use, by the blatant denial of biology your movement uses to make it seem less than what it is—"
"You were raped, Kelly, what if you'd gotten pregnant?" Elizabeth interrupted.
"That's enough," Gibbs said, reaching towards Elizabeth. "That's—"
"Don't bring that up! Don't ever throw that in my face!" she shouted angrily. "I was eight years old you stupid little brat, I couldn't—"
"But if you had, wouldn't you want the choice—"
"I'm not saying it should be illegal, I just want you to be careful what you say, Lizzy, you're so callous—"
"Mom," Elizabeth said aggressively, turning to her mother with pleading eyes. "You—you're an SVU detective, you see this kind of thing—you have to support what I'm saying—and you…you were raped, too, don't you think abortion is an important right?"
"Elizabeth April Gibbs!" roared Gibbs, standing up and grabbing her arm. She wrenched it away from him and stood up, glaring at Jenny.
"You wouldn't have wanted to have some rapists' baby, would you—" Elizabeth demanded—and then faltered, when she noticed her mother wasn't looking at her, but down at the cooling coffee in her mug.
Jenny stood up, looked at her watch, and left the room, sparing not a word or a glance. She needed to get ready for work, anyway—and she felt Elizabeth glaring after her, confused, angry, and she felt ashamed that she was walking away like this. Frustrated, Elizabeth kicked at her chair, glaring after Jenny, and she turned towards Kelly, debating going after her mother. Gibbs slammed his chair towards the table, pushing it in roughly and turning an authoritative glare on his youngest.
"I told you to shut-up," he barked harshly, ignoring the abashed look the aggression brought to Elizabeth's face. "You damn well better start listening to me when I give you an order, kid," he growled.
Kelly's lips shook; she winced and she reached up to brush at her bangs, shaking her head at Elizabeth.
"You don't know what the hell you're talking about," she said, her voice cracking. She bit her lip and glanced down the hall.
Elizabeth put her hands on her hips, exasperated, and looked between them.
"What?" she demanded meanly. "What, I'm not allowed to value the life and health of living, breathing women over fetuses—"
"She's had an abortion," Kelly yelled, cutting Elizabeth off. "You got in her face about one of the worst things she ever went through!"
Elizabeth fell silent. She looked stricken, then angry, then defensive, and she stomped her foot, and flung her hands out.
"Is everyone in this family fucked up?" she demanded recklessly.
Gibbs grabbed her shoulder and yanked her around-rougher than he should have, and he saw she was regretting it already the moment he caught her eye. Kelly made a hurt noise, and then her eyes flashed.
"Elizabeth," he said coldly. He was so immensely glad Jenny hadn't been here to hear her say that.
"You've had such a charmed little life," Kelly cried. "You don't realize how insensitive or how hurtful your terminology can be. You don't understand what kind of damage it did to her," she defended. "It's why she can't have children, Lizzy."
Kelly bit her lip, and stood up, abandoning her food. She started to leave, hesitated, and looked at Gibbs for guidance.
"Leave her alone," he instructed intuitively, aware she was considering going to comfort Jenny. He narrowed his eyes at Elizabeth, and grabbed her shoulder, pulling out her chair and sitting her firmly back down in it. "Leave me'n'your sister alone, Kelly," he added sharply, his tone dangerous.
He jerked his chair out, too, and sat down as Kelly left.
Frustrated, Elizabeth reached for her ponytail, tugging in it hard and twisting it around her hand. She avoiding her father's eyes, and stared at her mother's abandoned coffee mug.
"I didn't know," she muttered defensively, her shoulders tense. "If you guys told me this shit instead of trying to keep my life so charmed," she spat.
Gibbs took her hand from her hair and pressed his thumb into her knuckles, gentle and firm at the same time.
"If I ever hear you call your mother, or your sister, 'fucked up' again, I'll make you wish you were never born."
She shrank away from him - it was by no means the first time her father had been angry enough to say that to her, and usually it was just an empty, annoyed offhand comment, but somehow, this time, it made her feel like most despicable girl on the planet.
"Elizabeth," he said firmly, "do not complain about how easy you've had it.
Gibbs had still been talking to Elizabeth when she slipped out of the house for the precinct, and she deliberately chose not to interrupt them. She had said a quick farewell to Kelly, so someone knew she had left, and listened to music loudly on the way to work so she wouldn't have to think—
—but things were blessedly quiet at the precinct, which boded well for the city and ill for her.
She sat at her desk under the dim fluorescent lights, reviewing testimonies from the grueling investigation of a foster mother who was abusing the boys she took in—her most important open case. It struck uncomfortably close to home, but she usually solved those cases most easily—her gut instinct was particularly finely tuned to sinister foster parents.
She rubbed her eyes lightly, so as not to damage her make-up, and swallowed hard, wishing she had a better cup of coffee to keep her occupied. She liked night shift, but tonight she felt like sleeping instead of ruminating; her head had been hurting since she left home, and her chest was aching—a familiar, old ache.
Elizabeth had blindsided her at supper—Elizabeth, with her passion and determination and innocence. She was a fourteen-year-old force to be reckoned with, that girl, with her avid interest in feminism and animal welfare and environmental legislation, but she had little perspective—and Kelly was right; her words could wound.
Jenny, in spite of all she had gone through, had never been an activist, or politically minded, or socially motivated; she was a cop to the core, and she cared about putting sexual criminals in jail; the political arena made her uncomfortable because it exploited the struggles of real people, diminished them, used them, fundamentally misconstrued and misunderstood them.
Elizabeth's political acumen was unique to the family, but neither Gibbs nor Jenny tried to stifle it—though Gibbs had looked ready to belt her by the time the shouting had stopped. Kelly was religious, Gibbs was apathetic, and Elizabeth and Jenny were godless, but the differences had never been inharmonious—and this altercation had highlighted the vast differences between the three women who lived in one house, and Jenny was afraid of what her daughter was going to think of her.
Would she think her a coward for refusing to speak, to fight, to care about that issue? Would she ever be able to understand how much her choice—Jenny's choice—had hurt her more than it had healed? Jenny leaned forward, running her hands over her face. She took a deep breath, sliding her hand over her neck, down her side, to her stomach, and letting it rest there—it didn't matter how many times he told her she was whole, in rare moments she still felt twinges of pain where she considered herself broken.
These days, she called herself healthy, but she was ever cognizant of the scars she bore, and she had accepted long ago that they would always be there—she might logically have come to terms with her past, her decisions, and her demons, but once in a while, her emotions were triggered, and her emotions went against her logic and made her feel sick again.
She looked up, at Munch's old desk—if only he hadn't retired; he'd make some joke, distract her. It was dark, and Stabler and Fin were gone, staking out a suspect's apartment while she manned the station—
She heard a sudden movement, the slam of a door. She sat up abruptly—
"Jen," a voice said, and set a heavy ceramic travel mug down on her desk.
She closed her eyes tightly, startled, and flinched away shakily. She took a deep breath, and when she opened her eyes, he was crouching next to her chair, hands on her knees.
"Jenny," he said softly, reaching up to her shoulder. "Jenny, I tried not to sneak up on you," he apologized. "It's me," he assured her in a deep voice. "Jen, it's me."
She leaned back, relaxing, and turned her head towards him, her lips hitting against his hand. She smiled, relieved, and cocked an eyebrow—he looked guilty enough, and she forgave him; she had been so deep in a reverie, it would have been impossible for him not to scare her.
"It is you," she agreed primly.
She sat forward, shrugging his hand off and looking admiringly at the travel mug.
"Coffee?" she asked.
"The good stuff," he said. "Figured you'd need it."
"Mmmm," she murmured, reaching for it—and to think, she had been lamenting her lack of satisfying coffee.
She wrapped her hands around the Brown University mug and took a sip, scalding her tongue and savoring the flavor. Gibbs sat down on the edge of her desk, hands on his thighs, and glanced around critically.
"Where's the crew?" he asked.
"Short-staffed," she said wryly. "You know the feeling."
He nodded curtly, and she looked over at her computer, checking the time.
"It's past your bedtime, Jethro," she teased softly, and he fixed his eyes on her.
Her smiled faded a little, and she lowered her mug, tapping her nail on the lid. She licked her lips slowly.
"Can you just let it go?" she inquired tiredly.
"You haven't let it go for twenty years," he pointed out.
She compressed her lips, and narrowed her eyes, pushing a hand through her thick, tangled hair. She looked at him sideways. He was right, she hadn't—and it was half because every time she looked into those resolute blue eyes of his, she wanted to seem them in her own child, and she couldn't.
She swallowed, and took a deep breath.
"Elizabeth makes me so proud," she said hoarsely. "She's so smart…she's this little firecracker, and she's everything I want in a daughter," she praised. "She's beautiful, and she's athletic, and she stands her ground."
"She hurt you, Jen."
"Jethro," she sighed. "She didn't mean to," she asserted honestly. "I want her to fight for what she believes in. She should—and the things she said…she's right," Jenny paused, her throat itching. "But I can't…I can't be the kind of warrior she is, because that choice she's fighting for…I made it, and it took so much away from me."
She closed her eyes lightly, until the burning stopped, and she had successful subdued the tears.
"Kelly is sensitive to the question because her faith is so strong—I'm sensitive because I lived through it."
"She made you relive it," Gibbs growled, his mouth tense. "I should have put my foot down quicker, Jen," he reprimanded himself.
She shook her head.
"No, Jethro," she corrected. "Don't ever silence your daughters," she told him. "It's suffocating to be silent."
He set his jaw, considering her, and she took a long sip of coffee, reveling in the warmth. Her eyes lingered on Gibbs' knees, and then she looked up slowly.
"She couldn't in a million years understand how conflicted I felt—feel," Jenny said hoarsely. "I…I know I couldn't have a baby at fifteen, not when I was living with a predator, not when I couldn't even breathe half the time for how scared and sick I was…but some part of me wanted it, badly, and some part of me still does, and the total devastation that came from that abortion," she paused, and shook her head, "because of it, I wouldn't ever feel right advising a girl to get one…just because of how much I've regretted, and suffered, and lost—but I wouldn't dare act like a brutalized young woman should raise the child of," Jenny trailed off again.
"Kelly told her she had no perspective," Gibbs grunted.
"She's young," Jenny mumbled. "It's a damn good thing she doesn't have my perspective, Jethro," she added. She licked her lips, and sat forward, resting her elbows on her table. She bowed her head. "I don't want Elizabeth to think I'm weak."
Gibbs shifted, leaning over and running his hand over her hair, pressing his lips to the crown of her head. He said nothing, but he knew Elizabeth would never think that of Jenny, of the only mother she'd ever known.
"You're not weak, Jen," he said.
"I wish I could be like her," she whispered, "convince myself I didn't kill anything. I envy the women who think like that—but every time I almost get to that point, I think—if it wasn't living, why did it have to be…terminated?"
"Lizzy has never held a newborn in her arms," he said dismissively. "She's never seen an ultrasound, she's never listened to the heartbeat, she doesn't remember Shannon singing to her before she was born," he went on logically. "She knows what she believes in, and it's easier for her to opt for the less unhappy way of thinking of it."
Jenny swallowed hard. She rested her forehead on his knee.
"I had an ultrasound," she said softly. Her eyes fluttered. "I heard the heartbeat."
"You're okay, Jenny."
She pressed her lips against his jeans. She couldn't change what she'd done when she was fifteen, and the thing that haunted her about that time in her life was that she hadn't gotten pregnant from rape, she had just been careless, and she knew, yes, that people make mistakes, and sins could be forgiven, but she had always struggled with how stupid and small and childish that mistake had made her feel.
His hand ran over her head again.
"You're okay," he repeated.
She lingered a moment, and lifted her head.
"You weren't too hard on Lizzy?" she asked.
He clenched his jaw.
"I told her what you went through," he said curtly. "Told 'er you were drunk, the sex was unprotected, that you haven't gotten over it," he listed.
She nodded, relieved—now she didn't have to do it. There were three people in the world she'd talked openly to about it—Munch, Dr. Huang, and Jethro—and she was a coward in that she couldn't do it again.
He hesitated, and then he cupped her cheek in his hand.
"Jenny, I've told you before, we can adopt, we can—"
She shook her head firmly, keeping her eyes on his.
"I have two children," she said adamantly. "I've already adopted," she reminded him passionately. "I wanted to have yours, to carry yours…and I have accepted that I can't."
She compressed her lips.
"It still hurts like hell sometimes."
He leaned forward and kissed her.
"Not as much anymore," she assured him quietly, her lips brushing against his—and she meant it.
There were days now when all of her pain and suffering seemed a distant point in her past, and the nights when she felt shattered and disoriented and scared and depressed were so few and far between, she couldn't remember the last one—before this one. She was thankful for that.
"It bothers me to see Kelly and Elizabeth fight like that," she muttered.
"Yeah," he said dryly. "Kelly was tryin' to fend her off for you."
"I suppose we should have filled in Elizabeth when we told Kelly."
"She was too young," Gibbs grunted.
"We all banded together to shelter and protect Lizzy," she reflected. She lifted her shoulders. "We didn't realize Elizabeth isn't Rapunzel," she smirked a little wryly, "she's our prince."
Gibbs grinned, and brushed his knuckles against Jenny's cheek. She kissed his thumb, and he settled on her desk—he wasn't leaving until the sun was up to chase away her shadows.
Kelly stared uncertainly at her door as her sister knocked for a third time.
"You awake, Kel?" Elizabeth asked.
Kelly sighed, and drew her knees up to her chest.
"Yes," she affirmed, and Elizabeth slipped in.
She was freshly showered and clean, hair still wet, casually dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, and she approached her sister's bed cautiously, warily meeting Kelly's eyes in the soft yellow glow of the lamplight. Kelly's expression was calm, so Elizabeth sat down tensely on the edge of the bed, curling one leg under her.
Kelly tucked the bible she'd been perusing under her pillow, away from Elizabeth's scornful eye. She had been so busy with academics, ballet, extracurricular, and her own life in the past couple of years that she hadn't noticed how much Elizabeth had started to become independent and—incredible.
"Kelly?" Elizabeth asked softly.
"I'm obviously awake," Kelly retorted, cocking an eyebrow.
Elizabeth smiled uncertainly.
"Dad's really pissed at me," Elizabeth said.
"He's manically protective of Jenny," Kelly retorted bluntly. "It's also fair to say it's emotionally exhausting for him to take care of her sometimes, so he tries to defuse situations that trigger her."
Elizabeth bit her lip, and sighed tensely.
"I understand triggers," she said emphatically. "I wouldn't have—I didn't know—"
"That's the problem," Kelly warned sharply. "You didn't know, but instead of proceeding with caution—because you can never know the full extent of someone's private past—you launched into your callous tirade—"
"You knew," Elizabeth accused. "She told you, but me—I'm the last to know everything—"
"You're younger than I am," Kelly said, exasperated. "It isn't always appropriate to tell you things when they tell me things."
Elizabeth swallowed hard. She looked down and picked at frayed strings on her shorts.
"She's my mom," she said softly, licking her lips, "but she's like…your best friend."
"That's because I had a mom," Kelly said quietly. "I respect Jenny's authority, and I abide by her rules, and I love her, but we have a different relationship. My mother was Shannon, and after that, I deferred solely to Dad. You've almost always had them both, Dad and Jenny."
"So she coddles me, and she shares secrets with you."
"No," Kelly retorted, frustrated. "No, she didn't—Jenny doesn't talk about her assault unless she's helping me flesh out a problem I'm confronting. She only talks to Daddy when she's struggling personally. She didn't tell me she had an abortion, Daddy did. Dad told me her whole story after the—Nancy incident…and I don't think he told me everything, anyway."
Kelly tilted her head.
"Jenny loves you, Liz," she said, giving her sister an absurd look. "You don't…you're her baby, you are literally the only baby she can ever have."
"I didn't know she couldn't have children," Elizabeth said hoarsely, her lips shaking. "I just thought…she and Dad didn't want any more, I never," she trailed off. "Were you trying to divert me, Kelly, is that why you jumped my case?"
Kelly didn't say anything for a long time.
"What did Daddy tell you when he was talking to you?"
"He said…she was fifteen, and she'd been drinking," she murmured uncomfortably.
Kelly grit her teeth.
"Look, don't—don't repeat this," she said tensely. "Jenny—used to sell herself, because it made her feel in control of her sexuality, after she was attacked," Kelly revealed. "She…she tried drinking herself into oblivion, to get through it, and she got pregnant because she didn't insist on a condom. She couldn't afford a doctor, so she just—"
Elizabeth closed her eyes tightly and shook her head, her cheeks paling.
"Please stop," she requested.
"You can talk about it in political terms, but not personal?" Kelly asked a little sharply. "You can shout at Jenny that it's just a mass of cells, but you can't listen to her real story?"
"Kelly," Elizabeth pleaded. "I want her to speak because it should always be safe. She shouldn't have had to go to a butcher because she was poor or scared or alone. She should have been able to go to a safe, free clinic!" Elizabeth leaned forward earnestly. "I know we have different opinions," she began.
"No, we don't," Kelly said. She compressed her lips, and sighed. "I believe in God, Lizzy, but I'm a scientist, and a practical woman to boot. My faith doesn't mean I would deny women reproductive rights or care. I don't think it should be illegal. But I despise the way your side is so militant about the issue—dehumanize, dehumanize, dehumanize," she murmured. "There's a fundamental disconnect between pro-choice women and the reality of abortion. It's easier to believe nothing is dying—but Lizzy, if something has a brain wave, and a heartbeat, on Tuesday, and neither on Wednesday, did death not occur?"
Elizabeth stared at her sister, and swallowed hard.
"I still think it should be legal," she said. "I never said it doesn't make me sad."
"I agree with you," Kelly pointed out. "Jenny agrees with you. She's not a feminist; she's told me that before. She's not political. She just isn't. Don't fault her for it. You just have to think about how the words you choose may make someone feel. There are plenty of women who choose abortions, and then struggle with it for the rest of their lives, and even though they support the legality, the words you use hurt them. And there are women who have suffered terribly tragic events in which their unborn baby dies, and those women feel it deep in their soul when you say it wasn't a real life at all—you almost negate their right to grieve, by saying 'it's not alive.'"
Elizabeth leaned against the footboard of Kelly's bed and considered her sister, her mind working furiously. She had always looked up to Kelly, just like she had always admired Jenny, even though Elizabeth was nothing like them in so many ways. She smiled faintly, and looked down at her lap again.
"I feel awful," she croaked, her voice cracking. "I read about these issues, and I get so caught up in hating men for how they try to legislate our bodies, that I forget women don't all feel the same…I don't want Mom to think I," her brow furrowed. "I mean, she might get the impression I think she's pathetic, but I don't."
Kelly shook her head.
"You should talk to Jenny," she encouraged. She smiled gently. "I told you, Lizzy, you're her baby. You're her Ellie. She's upset because it's painful for her…but she's upset because she thinks she's disappointed you, too."
Elizabeth sighed heavily.
"You called me a brat, Dad told me to shut-up..."
"Yeah, tonight wasn't great for you, was it?" Kelly teased. "I'm sorry I called you a brat," she added sincerely. "And—hey, I'm sorry I was so demeaning about you having charmed life."
"Actually," Elizabeth said softly, "I have had it easy. Dad—when he was tearing me a new one, he made me realize…I've been safe, and happy, and free, for years because the three of you have…charmed me."
Kelly smiled. Elizabeth smiled back.
She got up, and then sat back down.
"Hey, uh—where's Dad? I want to ask him how to...approach Mom."
"He's at the precinct," Kelly said. She tilted her head. "He takes Jenny coffee a lot. I think tonight…he's fixing her."
In the quiet hours of the early morning, Jenny sat in the basement in the skeleton of the boat, sanding one of the ribs with slow, peaceful movements. She was alone, and wide awake—too much coffee, it seemed—and Gibbs was upstairs making breakfast. She could smell bacon and scrambled eggs and salsa, and her mouth watered.
She liked to claim the basement sometimes, occupying herself with the soothing woodwork, marveling at his talent and smoothing over the rough nicks he left in the wood. It was calming, relaxing, and it helped her ease her troubles.
She heard soft, hesitant footsteps on the creaky basement stairs, and she turned her head when they hit the cold basement floor. Elizabeth stood there, her eyes droopy with sleep, her hair a disaster of knots and cowlicks, and her t-shirt comically caught in the waistband of her shorts.
She swallowed hard, and folded her arms.
Mom?" she asked softly.
Jenny tilted her head, peering around the ribs of the boat, sitting up a little straighter. She leaned forward; resting her arm on one of her crossed legs, and arched her brows.
"Morning, Ellie," she said warmly.
Elizabeth dashed from the basement stars and flung herself onto the boat, using one of the ribs to swing up almost like a chimpanzee and catapult herself against Jenny. She slipped her arms around her neck and hugged her tightly. Jenny widened her eyes, accommodating Elizabeth gladly—high school freshmen didn't usually express affection so wildly, and it had been a long time since Elizabeth was this cuddly with Jenny or her father.
"Mom, I didn't mean to upset you," she mumbled rapidly, her voice muffled in Jenny's shoulder. "I'm so sorry; I feel like such a bitch, and a bully, and I had no intention of bringing up your worst memories, or—or—"
Jenny squeezed Elizabeth tightly and lifted her hand, sliding it gently over her daughter's mouth. She pulled back, and raised her eyebrows, studying Elizabeth's sleepy face intently.
"You had no intention of hurting me, Lizzy," she said firmly, "I know that."
Elizabeth pushed Jenny's hand away and sat back on her heels, her face flushed.
"I still feel awful," she said in a small voice. "Kelly and Dad both talked to me and I just—I had tunnel vision about the whole thing, because so many people at my school just call women who have," she stopped, looking stricken.
"Abortions," Jenny supplied gently.
"—they call them evil, and sinners…and it makes me so mad, and I want to antagonize them, and Kelly made me see how in some ways, I'm being just like them, by downplaying how much suffering might be involved."
Jenny nodded, listening patiently. She compressed her lips, and sighed.
"Elizabeth, you," she began, "you are so much stronger than I will ever be," she admitted. She shrugged. "You are right. It is a choice we need. I don't deny that. But I can't fight for it. I can't wave the flag. It hurts too much. Having an abortion stole something from me. I've never gotten over it. The idea of marching around…it's just something I can't do."
Elizabeth licked her lips.
"I can," she said. "I can try harder to—I want to live in a world where no one has to have them, but I just don't think it's possible—so I…Mom, I can try to make sure no other girl has to do what you had to do. I want them to be safe, if I can't make them obsolete."
Jenny smiled at her sadly. How a child could be so jaded and yet so optimistic was beyond her; she had never been optimistic herself—and jaded was too mild a term for what she was.
She squeezed Elizabeth again.
"I want you to do that, Lizzy," she said, her voice breaking. "Try to understand that it's just something I can't do, and don't think less of me for it."
"Mom," Elizabeth snapped hoarsely. "I couldn't think more of you if I tried you, you—" she couldn't think of anything important or poignant enough to say, so she shrugged. "I love you, Mommy."
"I know you do, Sergeant," she said softly.
Elizabeth hugged her again, and Jenny closed her eyes, accepting the affection. She stood up, and gestured to Elizabeth.
She cleared her throat.
"You and Kelly are my whole world," she said simply. "You girls, and your father, that's all I've needed for a long time. I still struggle, Elizabeth, and that's not your fault." She pushed her hair back, and took a deep breath. "I asked Liv if she'd speak for you, but the issue hits too close to home for her, too. She's a product of rape. I ended up calling in a favor to Judge Donnelly last night. She's going to give a lecture on Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights for you, okay?"
Elizabeth smiled weakly, and hopped off the boat, nodding. She was thankful for Jenny's maneuvering to get her a speaker, but she wasn't too worried about it anymore—she was more thankful that there wasn't any bad blood between her and her mother.
She stood next to Jenny, tugging at the edges of her shorts. She swallowed a few times, and looked at her tentatively.
"May I ask you something?"
"I might not answer," Jenny responded bluntly.
"Okay," Elizabeth said timidly. "If, ah, if you're not religious…why does it hurt you so much?"
Jenny looked away. She was silent for a long time.
"You don't have to be religious to acknowledge the beauty of life, Ellie," she said softly. She looked back at her daughter, and took a deep breath. "It isn't that," she revealed. "It is much more complex than me thinking I committed murder. It's a matrix of trauma, Elizabeth, and I hope to God you never comprehend it. I regret how I acted. I regret being too scared to speak up, or run away, or save myself. I regret being frivolous with my life and another because I was lost. I regret that one choice affected me for the rest of my life," she paused. "It always bothered me, but it bothered me more when I fell in love, and was happy, and wanted—a baby."
Elizabeth nodded, listening intently.
"Okay," she said again.
She felt out of her element, but in some way, it was good to hear her mother talk like this, to feel connected to the woman she was—like Kelly always did, and like Elizabeth had never quite understood.
The fourteen-year-old swallowed and took Jenny's hand.
"My, um…my birth mother died," she said quietly. "There's nothing that can change that. I'll never know…what it would be like…for Shannon to pack my lunch, or take care of me when I have the flu…and I feel jealous, when Kelly or Dad talks about her," she bit her lip. "But…I have you. I wouldn't ever say this to Kel or Daddy, because they loved her so much but I…don't want a mother who isn't you. You're all I'll ever have."
Jenny shoved her hair back and put her hand over her face. She sucked in her breath and turned to hug Elizabeth, drying her tears in her tangled hair.
"Do you know how often your father tells me I'd never have survived if I had that baby?" she asked shakily. "I know. Oh, I know—it's a choice between taking or ultimately ruining another life, and I had to do what I had to do—and I'd make the choice again, you know," she said. She kissed Elizabeth's hair. "I had to survive, Ellie, for you." She laughed—
Because here in the basement stood too godless women who recognized that without the death of a mother, and the death of a child, they never would have had each other—and they needed each other.
Elizabeth looked up at her, and Jenny cupped her face and smiled maternally.
"Is Dad still pissed at me?" Elizabeth asked in a whisper.
Jenny laughed huskily.
"Oh, to be fair, sweetheart, he's been in a state of 'pissed' at you since you turned ten."
Elizabeth laughed, and Jenny leaned back against the counter, content to hug her close. When Gibbs stormed down the stairs and announced that breakfast was ready, she pushed Elizabeth playfully towards the stairs, and accepted Gibbs' soft kiss to her temple—and she thought that maybe she'd finally be able to let her choice rest in peace.
*As usual, putting a disclaimer here (that I always use when touching on the abortion subject): not a political statement, just telling a story; exploring arguments I've heard and had, and putting a little perspective in there (a woman who's very close to me had to terminate a pregnancy in month 8 and to this day she can't stand to hear people talk about abortion flippantly)
**These past two chapters have focused on Elizabeth, to sort of round out the story: she's affected by all of this, too!