Set a short time after Ex-File but before Lost & Found.
Mann goes snooping in Gibbs's house. She finds more than she'd bargained for.
An established relationship story.
Written: November 2007. Word count: 2,163.
Hollis let herself into Jethro's house. It was quiet, still; empty.
As she walked across the uncarpeted hallway, the place seemed to echo around her. As always, when she was there, she felt as though she were in a house, not a home.
She ignored the vague feeling that she shouldn't be there while Jethro wasn't. Instead, she told herself that she had every right to be there. She was his lover, they were close, they'd been seeing one another for months now. She had the right to be there.
Besides, given his lack of willingness to talk to her, share with her, it might be the only way to find out anything about him.
He'd been even more distant and detached since Stephanie had reappeared, and since she'd found out about Shannon and Kelly. He hadn't seemed to like her putting the tape on and playing it; well, tough. It was time he realized that she was going to be around for a long time. They were good together. She'd get it right, unlike his three ex-wives. She had no intention of being ex-Mrs. Gibbs number four; none at all.
She was determined to find out more about the man; what he was; what he cared about. Who he cared about – other than his damned team. Other than Ducky.
Ducky puzzled her. Where and how did he fit into Jethro's life? They were unlikely friends, but friends they were; close friends too – she knew that. In fact more than once she'd gotten the impression that Jethro cared more, a lot more, about Ducky than about her. And she wasn't going to put up with that.
She moved through the downstairs rooms, noting that the furniture was sparse and functional. She was rather put out to discover that in the handful of cupboards and drawers she opened, she didn't find anything personal; no letters, papers, photos, anything. The one thing that did surprise her was a small collection of good whiskey and some heavy crystal glasses; some clearly very expensive heavy crystal glasses. Given that she'd only ever seen Jethro drink high-proof bourbon and not very good bourbon at that, the whiskey really surprised her. But other than that, there really was no indication of who lived in the house.
She wondered just how much time Jethro spent in his basement. Certainly when she was there, they were either down with his blasted boat, or in his bed. She hadn't seen the rest of his house, not really, not more than a fleeting glance into some of the rooms as he led her past them. And that was another reason she was here. If she was going to live here, she wanted to know what she was getting. When she lived here, they wouldn't just occupy the basement and the bedroom.
After she finished her tour of the downstairs rooms, she headed up the stairs. Apart from the bathroom and Jethro's bedroom there were two other rooms; bedrooms she assumed. The first, clearly a guest room, held a bed and some bedroom furniture. The drawers, like those downstairs, held nothing of interest; most in fact were empty.
Finally she pushed open the door to the third room and smiled. That was more like it; that was what she'd been looking for. Taking up at least half of the room was a desk, old, solid, plain, in dark wood, with a chair pushed underneath it; next to the desk stood a filing cabinet. Along one wall there were bookcases, and either side of the window were shelves.
She turned her attention to the shelves and bookcases first. She cast no more than a cursory glance at the books, instead she noted the photographs that stood there. Photographs of Jethro's team, including one of a woman she didn't recognize, but given she was wearing an NCIS cap and standing with DiNozzo, Hollis figured she was an earlier team member.
She tried the top drawer of the filing cabinet and found it was open. However, all it revealed was that Jethro paid his bills on time, had two credit cards and, despite paying three lots of alimony, had a reasonably healthy bank balance. There was still nothing really personal, nothing that spoke of who Jethro really was. The nearest had been the photographs, but even they were mostly causal, natural, on-the-job snaps.
The other drawers of the filing cabinet revealed nothing of the person either. There was paperwork relating to Jethro joining and leaving the Marines; joining NCIS; details of his pension; letter of commendation, but nothing – tangible.
She sighed and finally moved to the desk. There she sat down in the chair and began to study the desk. The first thing that caught her eye was another photograph. But unlike the pictures of the team that were unframed, this one wasn't. This was in a frame, and it was not a casual on-the-job snap, nor was it a group picture. Instead it was a picture of one person: Ducky. She stared at it for several minutes wondering why on earth Jethro had a photograph of Ducky on his desk.
The rest of the desk was pretty clear, an old mug held pens and pencils, there another mug that had once held coffee, and a calendar and clock stood together. But other than that there was nothing; there certainly wasn't a computer. She was about to give up, get up and leave when she decided to try the desk drawers.
The top right one just held more pens, a calculator, string, elastic bands, and other bits and pieces, but nothing else. Nothing to tell her who Jethro was.
That changed when she opened the middle drawer.
Inside there was a wooden box; it appeared to be hand made – no doubt by Jethro himself – and made with great care. As she stared at it she knew: whatever she wanted to know, she'd find in here. This would reveal to her who Jethro was; this would tell her.
She lifted it out opened the lid. Paper greeted her, pale ivory paper, thick, quality paper: letters. She smiled and opened the first one. Her smile faded as she began to read. Her mouth fell open as she scanned the contents. She shook her head, unwilling to believe what she was reading. Quickly, she put the letter to one side and opened a second then a third and a fourth and . . .
She dug to the bottom of the box, pulled out one letter, opened that and began to read.
Her hand was shaking when she dropped it on the desk with the others.
They were all the same.
They were all love letters.
They all began the same way: 'My dearest Jethro'.
They all came from the same person.
A person who was good with words, excellent with words.
A person whose eloquence she, against her will, found herself almost envying. While not explicit, the letters left no doubt as to the nature of the relationship between the person who'd sent the letters and Jethro himself.
They spanned years, decades. The most recent one was dated less than a month ago; the one at the very bottom of the box more than thirty years ago.
One after another, after another, after another were signed the same way: 'With love now and for always, Ducky'.
Obsessed now and totally against her will she read on, and as she did she saw the man who Jethro was. She saw the depths of his love, she read about his life, his life with Ducky. She read about how much Ducky loved, cared for, liked, respected, forgave and understood Jethro.
She had come here to learn about Jethro and that is what she had done. It wasn't what she'd expected to learn, but now she knew it, she realized it explained everything. The divorces, the distance, the lack of connection, the lack of commitment. It explained the friendship he had with Ducky, hell it even explained the good whiskey, the framed photograph on Jethro's desk, and the handful of other tasteful expensive, high quality objects, the kind that didn't look expensive or of high quality until you really thought about them, she now realized she'd seen as she'd walked around the house. And it explained why she and Jethro spent their time either in his basement or his bedroom.
She had to get out of there. She had to get out of there now.
Hastily she began to push the letters back into the box. She had half a dozen left when she froze. The back of her neck began to tingle and she felt an overwhelming sense of . . .
Calling on what had allowed her, a woman, to reach the heights of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army CID, she stood up and slowly turned around.
He stood in the doorway, motionless, one hand in the pocket of his overcoat, the other gripping his briefcase. By his side, a little behind him stood Ducky. They were both staring at her.
If she thought she'd seen hatred on his face when he'd come back from seeing Stephanie out of his house and had caught her playing Kelly's tape, she had been wrong. She had been very wrong. Very wrong indeed.
She now knew first hand that some of the comments she'd overheard about suspects needing a change of underwear after a run in with Gibbs were true. For a moment she really thought her body was going to betray her and force her to disgrace herself.
Fighting the near desperate urge, clamping down on her muscles, she was a Lieutenant Colonel, she'd faced death on more than one occasion, she won the battle – at least for now.
He didn't move. He didn't speak. He just stood and stared at her. His look frozen, brutal, full of disgust. Hatred was too weak a word to really describe his look.
Desperate for a moment's grace from the look, she flickered her gaze to Ducky's face.
There was no warmth, no comfort to be found there. Not that he was looking at her with hatred or disgust; his look was almost more speculative than anything else. But it was empty. There was nothing there. Nothing of the man she'd met on a handful of occasions. Nothing of the man she'd never liked, had been irritated by, but had put up with because of his friendship with Jethro.
As she forced herself to return to looking at Jethro, she wondered just how long they were going to stand there in their silent frozen tableau. And just how long she could make her body obey her.
She should say something, anything, apologize for being there, for snooping. But why the hell should she? She was the one who'd been wronged. She was the one who had been betrayed, lied to, cheated on, made a fool of.
Suddenly she wondered if the others, his team, knew. Were they laughing at her behind her back? Laying bets on how long it'd be before . . . Had Jenny known? Surely not. Hollis could not believe that. She'd have said something, hinted at least, maybe even –
"I think you had better leave." The cold, flat, emotionless voice cut into her thoughts. But it wasn't the voice she'd been expecting to hear.
He still stood in silence, just staring at her. His look never wavering, altering. It seemed that he hadn't even blinked.
"Jethro," she said, putting out her hand.
"Now." The same voice said.
For a second her body did take over and she felt dampness between her legs. She grabbed onto control again and once more her determination won out. She forced herself to take a step forward. Then another. Then another.
As she reached the door, they stood aside, moving back as if they didn't want to be contaminated by her.
Still he said nothing.
Still he just stared at her.
She turned to him, but Ducky moved. Moved in front of him and looked at her again. And then Ducky took her arm, his grip was like steel, and led her away.
He let go off her arm at the top of the stairs and followed her down step by step by step.
At the bottom Ducky took her arm again, led her to the front door and opened it.
As she turned to go she glanced at him, and just for a fraction of a second she thought she saw a flash of gentleness, softness, sympathy even in the cold, closed gaze. But then it had gone. Maybe she'd imagined it.
"Du –" She started to say, but stopped. There was nothing she could say. Instead she walked through the door.
"Goodbye, Colonel Mann," he said formally.
And he closed the door.
She heard it click shut.
Then she heard it being locked.
Somehow she doubted the door would ever be left unlocked again.
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