“I’d have thought you would have invited Jethro to accompany you this evening,” Ducky commented as he and the Director travelled home from the Marine birthday ball.
Jenny smiled, nonchalantly, knowing what Ducky was insinuating but not about to give him the information he was looking for. She had been able to tell all night that Ducky wanted to make a comment like this; she had been wondering how long it would take him to work up the courage.
“Oh he wouldn’t have been as much fun as you, Ducky,” she responded.
“You flatter me, my dear,” he said, smiling at her.
“Well, Jethro wouldn’t have danced for a start. And I was in the mood for some dancing,” she told him.
“Oh I’m sure he would have made an exception on this occasion. We both know Jethro can dance; he just has to have the right partner.”
Jenny rolled her eyes this time, and turned in her seat to face Ducky. “Okay, Ducky, just say what you really want to.”
His facial expression pleaded innocence but a smile still hovered on his lips. “I’m just curious as to why you didn’t ask Jethro,” he shrugged.
“Oh I think you know why… Or at least you think you know.”
“I’ve known both of you for a long time. You’re easy to read.”
“Oh?” Jenny asked – at the same time both anxious and excited about having this conversation. “And what did your reading reveal?”
“Well when Jethro found out I was your escort tonight he was definitely disappointed.”
Jenny laughed. “He’s just jealous that you got to go to the ball and he didn’t.”
“I totally agree, Jennifer. But we both know his envy was not of where I was going but, rather, with whom.”
Strangely it made Jenny feel unexpectedly sad to hear Ducky express the opinion she too held. It was confirmation that there was something being hidden for the sake of their careers.
“Ducky, Jethro and I are – ”
“Before you continue, you should know that I am perfectly aware that ‘just friends’ and ‘colleagues’ are euphemisms for ‘denying our true feelings’.”
“Ducky – ” Jenny’s tone was taking on warning elements now.
“Very few things in life are simple, my dear,” Ducky said, softly placing his hand on top of Jen’s where it rested on her thigh. “But love should be one of them.”
Jenny let out a laugh again and glanced away. “We’re hardly talking about love – ”
“You forget I knew you both at the beginning,” he interrupted her, and her face turned back round for her eyes to meet his. “And I see the same looks passing between you now. You’ve slipped right back to where you left off, and you’re both refusing to acknowledge it.”
“We didn’t ‘leave off’ at a good place, Ducky,” she recalled, sadly.
“Physically and mentally, no it wasn’t good. But emotionally?... Nothing’s changed, Jennifer.”
“We’ve changed, Ducky.”
“Your positions have changed, yes. And you’ve slightly more wrinkles…”
She offered him a raised eyebrow, and he returned a mischievous smile.
“… But, essentially,” he continued, “you’re the same people, in the same situation.”
“And history repeats itself,” she reminded him, touching on her fear that she would ruin things as she did last time.
“Not if you’ve learned from it,” he said pointedly. “Our own mistakes can be the greatest form of education.”
Knowing that Ducky was right was not comforting.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he carried on when Jenny remained silently pensive, “I’m not saying you should embark on a clandestine affair; sneaking around behind people’s backs… My point is, I understand why you’re not together; I understand why you’re tiptoeing around your true feelings; and I know that it all makes perfect sense, given your position… But it actually hurts me to watch the two of you.”
Jenny smiled sympathetically. “Ducky, you really shouldn’t care so much.”
“I know…” he sighed, melodramatically, “But I do nevertheless.”
They shared a laugh, and Jenny hit him playfully on the arm, then they settled into a comfortable silence; Jenny’s mind running through their conversation, and flashing back to Jethro’s face just before they left NCIS headquarters.
“You should have invited Jethro, you know,” Ducky broke the silence.
Jenny laughed again, and dropped her head back against the seat, rolling it sideways to look at her companion. “We’re not ready for that.”
“I think Jethro is,” Ducky stated matter-of-factly.
“Okay… I’m not ready for that,” she amended, quietly, hesitant to voice the whole truth. “I made a choice, Ducky… I agonised over it for weeks; I felt myself falling deeper and deeper, and I knew at some point I would have to decide between him and my career. And I did… I made that choice… I walked away from him, and I worked my way up, past all the comments from men – and women – saying I couldn’t do it. I fought to get where I am today, Ducky. I proved myself at every turn…” She paused to let out a laugh. “And then first day on the job, I’m on a stakeout with Jethro… Right back where we left off…” She met his eyes as she repeated his earlier words, then paused as she considered whether or not to speak her next thought. Eventually she did, though much more softly than her previous words. “I don’t find it easy to admit that I was wrong. Especially about big decisions like that… So… I’m not… ready. Yet.”
Ducky smiled understandingly and gave her hand a squeeze. “My mother always said that a second chance is a blessing not to be sneezed at.”
“I have no intention of sneezing at anything,” she assured him. “I just need a little time.”
“I understand. I do. But you should speak to Jethro… Just in case his nose starts feeling tickly.”
Jenny laughed out loud now. “This analogy is…”
“Not quite working. I know,” Ducky agreed. “But you get my point.”
Jenny nodded. “But telling Jethro is what I’m not ready to do.”
Ducky shook his head. “No, dear, you’re not ready to make such a life changing decision as putting your love life ahead of your career… I think you can talk to Jethro about this. He needs to know that you do have a future. Tell him. He’ll wait.”
“I can’t expect – ”
“He’ll wait…” he repeated reassuringly. “But if you don’t tell him what’s going on, he won’t know there’s anything to wait for.”
Jenny remained silent for a moment, reluctant to admit that she knew Ducky was right.
“And how do I know you’re right about his feelings?” she asked, eventually, defiantly.
Ducky gave a small smile and once more placed his hand atop hers. “Was I right about yours?”