“You know,” she began conversationally. “I still see Simon when I look at you, even after all these years, even after knowing your real name and that it wasn’t—”
“It was real, C.J.”
Gibbs took a long sip of coffee and met her gaze head on. “It was always real for me. It may have been an undercover assignment but I almost died, remember?”
“Oh, I mourned you. I remember.” C.J. touched his hand.
“I know, C.J. I know…”
Gibbs studied her expression and body language carefully, lost in his thoughts of what they’d almost had.
It had taken them a long time to get to this place. She’d realized he was alive after Jenny had died. Despite his best efforts to blend in, someone had flashed a picture of him up on TV and all hell had broken loose.
Within a day, Vance had been fielding calls from former president Bartlett and his staff, all demanding to know who the dead ringer for Special Agent Simon Donovan was. Simon had “died” in 2002 in a Manhattan grocery store steps away from where the president and his staff were attending an event.
And Simon had fallen deeply in love with C.J. Cregg.
The undercover assignment had nearly killed Gibbs—both literally and figuratively. He’d nearly died for a stupid bar of chocolate. And he’d lost C.J. When Gibbs had awoken three days later, he’d been told the assignment had wrapped and that Simon Donovan had been buried with full military honors.
Which had left Gibbs at sea.
There was no going back. That choice had been taken from him. Keep out of the way of the media, he’d been told. Don’t fight other agencies taking credit for cases NCIS solved, he’d been ordered. He’d thought Director Morrow was a hardass, but his predecessor, Director Bruce, had made Morrow look like a pussycat and Gibbs had half wondered if his life was on the line if he disobeyed orders.
Didn’t matter that he was in love with someone who thought he was dead. He had his orders and no choice but to follow them. His other options had been scarce. An assignment overseas for two or three years, a posting to some obscure place. Or to keep his mouth shut and let her move on in peace.
And so he had, watching her rise from Press Secretary to Chief of Staff before she retired from public service and began working with a charity. She was doing great things.
And they were both slaves to their responsibilities.
He still couldn’t quite grasp the fact that she was here with him after all this time. When she’d shown up at his desk, fuming with anger, his first instinct had been to hold her close. His second to kiss her senseless.
Instead, he stood there silently as she read him the riot act in front of his new team. He couldn’t defend what had been done to her, didn’t agree with it. When she’d stormed off after her rant, he knew this was just the beginning.
And it was…
Three months later they’d met a dozen times. Her anger was gone but her trust was still fragile and new. At first they’d taken to meeting only in public places but this week she’d been waiting for him in his basement twice, bearing coffee and quiet conversation. She was careful not to assign blame but she didn’t hide her feelings and agony either.
“I miss him, you know.”
“Who?” Gibbs asked, a little disoriented. He hadn’t realized he’d sunk so deep into thought, but the sound of her voice had startled him.
She nodded sadly. “I see shades of him in you, but you’re not him and he wasn’t you. I know that sounds strange but…”
Gibbs shook his head. “Not strange at all, C.J. We were different. Simon was who I wanted to be with you.” The idealized man he’d wished he’d been.
“And I miss him,” she added quietly, an apologetic look in her eyes even as she moved closer.
It was then Gibbs realized he was competing with a man who never existed. He would find a way to get through to C.J. He would find a way to win her over. He was not going to lose her again
It was a few minutes before he spoke again. “Special Agent Sunshine at your service, Ms. Cregg.”
And in that moment, he knew everything would be okay between them. In time.