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Pretending

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Pretending


 

Kate hasn't been over to the Lightman group the rest of the week and is still refusing to take her calls, so Gillian takes the proverbial bull by the horns and calls Gibbs' house. Kate spends most of her time there now anyway, and if Gillian can't talk to Katie, she'll talk to Jethro instead.

She's not sure whether she's grateful or not that it's Gibbs who answers. Part of her was hoping she'd get to at least say hi to Kate, but there's always the slender possibility that Kate would've hung up on her, and Gillian is sure she could not deal with that.

Gibbs answers the phone in the typically gruff way he responds at work, but that means she gets to hear his voice soften and warm when he realises it's her, gets to enjoy the way his simple 'hey' is full of his smile.

"How's my knight in shining armour?"

Jethro chuckles. "Think that'd be DiNozzo and McGee. They're the ones who rode in on their white horses." Another laugh. "The best before date on me being a hero is long gone."

"They rode in on your orders. And you looked after Katie and Cal for me."

She can so easily picture the sceptical way he'll cock an eyebrow. "Huh. So what does that make my team?"

"Your squires?"

"More like my fools."

She almost shoots back with 'fools in love,' but just because it's obvious to her that at least half of that duo is a nursing a crush doesn't mean that it's obvious to everyone, or that it's her secret to spill.

There's a moment of silence, but it's warm and comfortable. Eventually he laughs again. "There's no way I can talk you out of that image, is there?" To almost anyone else he'd sound resigned, but Gillian can tell that he's pleased, however much he's trying to pretend otherwise.

"Nope." She pops the 'p' with relish. "You're my knight and my champion. Deal with it."

Clearly, he has no idea how to respond to this, and shamelessly changes the subject instead. "So, are you still coming over on Saturday?"

"Yes!" she exclaims - probably a little too eagerly. "I mean, if that's still okay?" Please let it be okay.

"Of course it's okay."

Gillian's pleasure in his easy assent is short lived. She can't hear what Kate is saying, but she can hear the tone of voice, and she definitely hears when he replies, "Of course they should still come, Katie. Why'n hell would ya even ask that?"

It makes Gillian want to cry.

"If it's a bad weekend..."

"It's fine, Gillian," he says, but his tone is a little strained.

Gillian's also painfully aware that her voice wobbled. The chance of Gibbs missing that is negligible. She never could fool him. "Okay."

There's another unintelligible comment from Kate, which they both ignore. Gillian's glad she can't hear, although it also hurts that she feels that way. She hates this estrangement so much. Her throat is tight and there are tears pooling at the corners of her eyes. This time the silence between her and Jethro is aching, full of the things they're not saying, the questions they're not asking, the uncertainty of how they navigate these shoals. She reminds herself that even Kate's sister says they fit. If someone can see it even from the outside, then surely they can work this out?

Gibbs takes a noisy breath, then another, then manages, "So. How's Lightman doing?"

Gillian's pretty sure he's asking to make her smile, and it works... kind of. Cal is as bad as Kate, but his faux pas was comical and drug-fuelled, so the way he's hiding is not as heartbreaking as Kate's accidental admission and subsequent rejection. "He's... getting over it. Slowly."

"Idiot."

There's enormous affection in that one word. Gillian wishes Cal would give Gibbs a chance, a moment to be normal, to treat Cal with the care and friendship that's characterised their relationship right from the start.

Jethro doesn't seem embarrassed, doesn't seem bothered at being part of their impromptu puppy pile or about the way Cal propositioned him. More than anything, he's amused, and maybe even more affectionate than before - when he's allowed. Gillian remembers the way he buried his face in her hair, then has to dismiss the image for her own sanity.

"He'll come. Even if I have to drag him by his ear."

The laugh she gets in response to that is loud and heartfelt. "Tell him we promise not to tease him about it."

"Really?"

"I said to tell him that, I never said I was actually promisin' a damn thing."

It's Gillian's turn to laugh. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you are a sneaky bastard."

"Yup. 'S one of my best features."

She laughs again, and it loosens the knot in her chest. If she can get the pair of them in one room, she's sure between Gibbs' fond amusement and Cal's inherent resiliency, they'll get back to some kind of normalcy. She just wishes she felt as confident with regards to Kate. She half wishes she knew Rachel well enough to call her up and send her to talk some sense into her baby sister. Part of her is seriously considering doing that anyway, if this goes on much longer.

Jethro's more concerned about Kate too, it's obvious. He lets out another sigh after another objection from Kate in the background, then there's the rustle of movement and Gillian figures out he's going to a different room, that he wants to speak to her privately.

"Gill, I'm worried," he says, his tone hushed. "She cried on my shoulder, she won't tell me why she's upset, now she's tryna get out of somethin' she was looking forward to, I just... I don't understand." His voice cracks on that last painful admission.

Gillian's heart squeezes in her chest. How does she explain that Kate is grieving because she's in love with someone besides Gibbs? How can she say, 'Oh, and by the way, it's me, and I'm in love with her, too'? She can't, of course. It's another time when it isn't her news to share or her confession to make, if she even knew how to say it without leaving him thinking his world was about to crash down around his ears. She feels bad for lying to him, even if only by omission, but what else can she do? It's a necessary subterfuge.

"It'll be okay," she promises instead. "Whatever it is, we'll figure it out, we always do." She hopes to God she's right.

He takes a deep, noisy breath. "Gillian-" There's a long pause, like he's carefully considering what he's going to say, but in the end all that comes out is a quiet, "Thank you."

He sounds defeated, and Gillian wishes she knew how to reassure him, wishes she could pull him close and murmur comforting nonsense in his ear. "You're welcome, Jethro."

He chuckles the way he always does these days when she uses his given name aloud, like it surprises him and delights him at the same time, and as it always does, the laughter makes Gillian feel safe and warm. For a moment, she lets herself remember what it's like to be wrapped up in those strong arms, how much like home it felt when she got back to the Lightman group and the three of them enveloped her in security and love. "It'll be okay," she says again, although this time it's more for her own benefit. It aches to have all these emotions and keep them inside.

"Gillian?"

"Yes?"

"Are you okay?"

The tender concern in his voice nearly undoes her. "I- I'm okay."

He makes a disbelieving noise. She knew she didn't hide her reaction to Kate's objections very well, but she thought she did better than this. Then again, Gibbs always reads her far better than she expects. He has from the beginning.

She closes her eyes and leans her head back, trying to will away the return of her tears. "I'll be all right," she says at last. There's no response, just warm, expectant silence. "I'll be okay, Jethro."

He doesn't reply to that, either, but somehow, she feels understood. They stay like that for a long time, silent, listening to each other breathing, and Gillian wonders if Jethro finds this as comforting as she does.

Eventually he says, "I'd better go."

"Okay."

"But we'll see you Saturday." It's not quite a question, but from Gibbs, it's surprisingly uncertain.

"Wouldn't miss it."

The sound he lets out is pure relief. "Thanks, Gillian," he says again, then there's a click as he breaks the connection.

Gillian laughs. It's so like him to end a call without ceremony or smalltalk. It's a reminder that some things really don't ever change, that maybe they will be okay even if all these undercurrents temporarily set them off course. God, she hopes that's true, hopes their foundation is as strong as she thinks it is. Rachel said they fit seamlessly, and they did, just last week. It scares Gillian how quickly they're falling apart. But maybe it means they can put themselves back together differently - better.

She's so tired of being careful. She still hasn't figured out if the future she keeps finding herself imagining - where it's okay that she and Kate love each other as well as their partners, where Cal faces up to his feelings about Gibbs, where they admit they all light up around each other, that they work - is even possible, is something they could make happen. It sometimes seems like it's only just out of reach, and other times it seems a million miles away. She wants it, she wants it so badly, needs so desperately for Rachel to be right that she can't trust herself, can't believe because it will hurt too much if she's wrong. (She's not wrong, she's not wrong, she's not wrong.) And God knows how to get from here to there, anyway. Gillian is good, is great with people, at reading them and guiding them and helping them get where they need to be... but even she doesn't have a clue how you start a conversation like this.

But she knows, even if they never figure out that part, that she can't, she won't give up Kate's friendship without a fight. Kate's embarrassed, and Gillian doesn't blame her, but it isn't a good enough reason to let go. Maybe they'll have to find a way to fall out of love, or to just... learn to deal with it. Either way, though, she passionately believes it will be worth the effort and pain.

Then she remembers Rachel's words, and how Jethro couldn't stop smiling and laughing even as he complained about Cal loving on him, and she remembers that look of realisation and devastation on Kate's face, and it spikes both hope and fear. Even if nothing else happens, can they go on pretending long enough to get over this and stay friends?

Gillian really doesn't know.

~ fin ~