Jen watched Carson leave with his parents; taking in the way Gibbs’ gaze followed them until they disappeared from his line of sight. She continued to watch as her former partner then lowered his head slightly – the years of working with him giving her a picture of his expression even though she couldn’t see his face.
She longed to be able to take away the pain that he relived every time a case involved a child; to remove the guilt he carried everywhere with him; but, theirs had never been a relationship like that. Only love could overwhelm such grief, and they had never been about love.
Abby’s cheer-filled suggestion that they all go for a drink was what broke Gibbs from his contemplation, and it was him turning to look up to her that broke Jen from hers.
A slight incline of his head, she knew, was him extending Abby’s invitation to include her. She smiled gratefully but shook her head once. She had paperwork to finish and, if she was honest with herself, she wanted time alone to think. The weekend’s events had certainly stirred feelings she had been managing to control, and with so much to think about she wasn’t in the mood to be surrounded by others.
Gibbs nodded his understanding and Jen pushed away from the railing upon which she had been leaning. As the team gathered their coats and belongings, Jen returned to her office.
She was there merely minutes – having time only to pour herself a drink, and to sit down at her desk – before, unsurprisingly, the door swung open, and Gibbs entered.
“Abby says she won’t take no for an answer. Taking care of Carson was a whole group activity, and this is a whole group celebration.”
Jen carefully placed her glass on the desk, and folded her hands together in front of her. “So, Abby sent you up here?”
He didn’t directly answer her question. “I said I would come get you… It was either me, or Abs… And she said if she came, she would tell you I really wanted you to come, and she would impersonate me.”
Jen smiled. “Aw, her impersonations are quite fun.”
Gibbs just shrugged, feigning disinterest.
“You know, she’s probably down there right now, telling the others her version of how this conversation is going,” she smirked.
“And what do you think that might be?” he asked, and she caught a slight twinkle in his eyes.
Playing along, she cleared her throat, and lowered her voice, as Abby did when mimicking Gibbs. “You should come for a drink with us,” she had him say, “You spend far too much time being Director, and not enough time being Jenny…” She paused, altering her voice to be Abby’s impersonation of her. “Oh but I’ve far too much work to do.” Her Gibbs responded, “Nonsense, it’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow – ”
She was interrupted from her enactment by Gibbs, his voice high, to take on hers. “Oh but I mustn’t leave it, I’m far too important to do that.” He smirked at her in response to the look of surprise she shot him.
Setting her jaw defiantly, she continued this charade. “You should let your hair down once in a while, Jenny. It wouldn’t kill you, you know.”
“You’re one to talk. I’m surprised you’re even going for this drink. Isn’t there a boat waiting for you at home?” He emphatically mimed tossing his hair over one shoulder.
“I do not toss my hair,” Jen argued in her own voice.
Gibbs just shrugged and indicated that it was her turn to speak.
She returned to their little game, lowering her voice. “I felt like a change. And besides, I’m only going if you go.”
She saw Gibbs smirk at this before he quickly hid it. “Well, Abby will be disappointed when neither of us go.”
“Then don’t disappoint her,” she responded, as him.
“Ah, you’re always right, Jethro. Okay, let’s go.”
Jen laughed out loud at this, and lowered her head, shaking it slowly. “Those words are so unlikely to ever pass my lips,” she smiled, lifting her head again, to find Gibbs was now leaning over her desk, his hands resting on its surface.
“You should come for a drink with us,” he said, seriously, “You spend far too much time being Director, and not enough time being Jenny.”
“I can’t,” she responded quietly.
“Why not?” he asked, equally quiet, bringing an air of anticipation to the conversation.
“I need some time to myself. To think… I meant what I said on Friday night, Jethro… I have to do what’s best for me.”
She saw the anger sweep his features before he pushed away from the desk. “One drink wouldn’t kill you, Jen,” he told her, disappointment dripping from his words as he headed straight for the door, swinging it open, and leaving without looking back.
“Jethro,” she called after him as soon as she found her voice. “Jethro!” she repeated, leaving her seat, and moving to the outer office, hoping he would have stopped.
She let out a frustrated sigh when she saw that he hadn’t.
She paced two impatient steps back towards her office and then stopped as her words replayed in her mind. “I meant what I said… What’s best for me.”
She glanced between the two doors; the words repeating in her head; her mind trying to come to a decision. Four seconds later she muttered, “insufferable man!” as she rushed out of the office, and towards the top of the stairs.
Gibbs was just picking up his jacket; the rest of the team were standing by Ziva’s desk waiting to leave.
“Agent Gibbs,” she called in her most authoritative voice, just before he left his desk.
He ignored her.
“Agent Gibbs!” she repeated, louder and more stern, and the team glanced between her and their boss as he walked through their group, still ignoring her calls.
Inwardly seething, she changed tactic. Altering her voice, she said, loudly, “Yes, Director Shepard?” This gained her strange looks from the team, but a small laugh from Abby. She continued as Gibbs reached the elevator and pressed to call it. “I expect you to answer me first time….. I didn’t hear you….. Like hell you didn’t. You were ignoring me….. With good reason I think….. You could at least hear me out….. I’ve heard it all before….. No you haven’t -”
The elevator had opened, but Gibbs hadn’t stepped inside. It was now or never. Jen took a deep breath.
“You didn’t give me chance to explain what it is that I need to think about.”
His head turned slightly to the side, indicating that he was listening, but still no response.
“Jethro, do you really want to do this here?” she asked, very conscious of the eyes of his team, darting back and forth, bright with intrigue. Thankfully, the one or two agents remaining at other desks had the sense – or fear – not to look up.
Gibbs still didn’t respond.
“Okay. Fine… I meant it when I said that I have to do what’s best for me…” She paused. She had never even spoken these words aloud in her own head, let alone to a room of people; but her decision had been made the minute he walked out of her office – or, if she was honest with herself, the minute he left her house on Friday night; ‘time to think’ was just an excuse to keep her from taking this chance. Taking another deep breath, she pretended she couldn’t see Tony and Ziva straining to hear her as if the outcome of some sort of bet rode on her next words, and she did it. “That’s why I will be standing down as Director of NCIS.”
The other agents did look up now, and there was a collective gasp from them and from Gibbs’ team. Even Gibbs himself turned round now, moving back towards his team, eyes fixed on Jen so she knew, with no doubt at all, where he was heading.
“You’re what?” Tony asked, no doubt voicing the question on everybody’s minds.
Gibbs clipped him on the back of the head as he passed him. “Go,” he instructed them. “The Director and I will meet you there,” he told them, emphasising her title.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Jen saw the team hesitate, glancing at each other.
“I can assure you the rest of this conversation takes place in the Director’s office,” Gibbs called to them as he climbed the stairs. “You’re not going to miss anything by leaving.”
Jen was getting more and more nervous by the second. Gibbs’ tone each time he said ‘Director’, and the determined look in his eyes clearly conveyed his opinion on her announcement. She just had to stand her ground.
He walked straight past her, and opened the office door, waiting for her to precede him in. She briefly glanced down to the bullpen, to see that the team had in fact gone, and the other agents had returned to their work.
She turned, folding her arms defiantly across her chest, and swept past him. She had barely opened the inner office door when his tirade began.
“What the hell are you thinking? Were you thinking at all?” he growled, slamming the door behind him.
She perched on the front edge of her desk, arms still folded, watching him as he raged.
“Not only is it an insane notion, but to shout it across the room in front of everybody – ”
“It was hardly everybody,” she interrupted him. “The place is deserted… And I did suggest not having the conversation there.”
“You didn’t tell me what you were going to say!” he yelled at her.
“You wouldn’t listen!” she yelled back.
He was briefly silent, chest heaving as he took fast breaths, obviously having realised that he couldn’t argue that point.
“What the hell is going on, Jen?” he asked her, more calm than his previous outburst, but retaining all of the anger.
“I think I explained quite clearly. If you’d been listening you – ”
“Jen,” he implored, gazing directly into her eyes, making her heart skip with the intensity of his stare.
“It’s my decision, Jethro,” she reminded him, suddenly defensive.
“Like hell it is if you’ve had a bang to the head or something!” he snapped back.
She rolled her eyes at this. “I’m entirely in my right mind.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
“Well from the way you’ve taken it so personally, I think you have a few ideas about why I’m doing this!... Please do explain what the hell it’s got to do with you!”
“You made a point of telling me!”
“But I didn’t expect this!”
“Well what did you expect? For me to just stand by and watch you throw away everything you’ve worked for?”
“Like I say, it’s my decision.”
“It’s the wrong one!”
“But it’s mine to make. So why are you really shouting at me?”
“I’m trying to make you see sense.”
“And why do you get to decide what is a sensible decision for me?”
“Because you’re clearly incapable of doing it yourself.”
“Because I’m ready to step down?”
“I’ve thought it through.”
“Jethro – ”
“If you thought it was an acceptable length of time you’d tell me.”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
“Then why did you make such a point of telling me?”
“Because I wanted to explain myself to you.”
He stayed silent, apparently now willing to let her speak.
“I wanted to ask you to stay on Friday night. And it wasn’t the first time,” she told him nervously. “I know I said there would be no outside of work, Jethro…” she paused to swallow hard, “… But I think I’ve done as many years as I can under that.”
“When did you make this decision, Jen?” he asked her, taking a step closer to her.
“It’s been a long time coming.”
Gibbs frowned and Jen kicked herself for the little sense that she was making.
“You know,” she said, standing up, “The team is waiting for us, we should go. We can talk about this another time.” She moved round to the back of her desk to collect her jacket, but Jethro followed her, turning her round to face him.
“Jen, if you’re doing this for me – ”
“That’s very egotistical - ”
“But it fits with your explanation. Unless you’re leaving to run away to Hawaii with Colonel Mann,” he smirked.
She quirked an eyebrow, acting confident while inside she was terrified what the answer to her next question might be. “Is she taken?” she asked quietly.
He held her gaze for a few seconds, the way he always did when she was asking about something he considered to be none of her business, but then his head tilted and he replied, “Not by me.”
Relief flooded her system, her heart began pounding, and she didn’t know what to say next. She managed not to let her reaction show on her face for about three seconds, and then she looked away as she felt a smile tugging at her lips, and a blush rising to her cheeks.
“I think you should take more time to think about this,” he told her softly.
She looked up to meet his eyes again. “I think it’s the most sensible decision I’ve ever made.”
“I’m not worth it.”
“I know otherwise.”
“Jen – ”
“I’ve given up enough for my career… Now it’s time for me to get some of it back… This is for the best, Jethro.”
“Jen, given my track record, you really think that you and I can work?”
She smiled sympathetically now, resting a hand on his arm. “Jethro, since Shannon, I’m the longest relationship you’ve actually had with a woman.”
He frowned for a moment as if thinking that through, then he nodded his concession to her point.
“I know, and understand, your past… And I’d like to be your future,” she said, her eyes wide with hope. Then her words replayed in her head and she let out a burst of laughter, ducking her head. “That sounded a lot a less cheesy when I thought it.”
Gibbs laughed too, and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, so she looked up at him again.
“I’m a pain in the ass to get along with,” he pointed out.
“I know,” she smirked.
“And I haven’t…” he paused and she saw the look in his eyes that meant he was uncomfortable with the subject of conversation, “I haven’t dealt with – ”
She placed her hand on his chest reassuringly. “I know.”
There passed between them a silent look of understanding.
“And you’re absolutely crazy to give this up for me.”
A genuine, wide smile swept across her lips now. “I know.”
“I should stop you,” he said, stepping closer to her.
“I wouldn’t let you,” she replied, edging closer herself.
“Are you absolutely sure this is what’s best for you?” He stepped even closer.
She nodded. “I want different things now, than I did nine years ago.” With her movement they were barely centimetres apart now.
“This could be a disaster,” he whispered, his lips hovering close to hers.
“Or it could be the opposite,” she whispered back.
“Are you sure?” His lips grazed hers as he spoke.
In reply, she merely nodded and pressed her lips forward into his.