1---Hollis Mann, 2007
Gibbs let out a long, relieved sigh as he opened his eyes. Hollis giggled, burying her face in his chest. Her light purring sent warm and tingling sensations Gibbs hadn’t felt in a while.
“That was….awesome.” Hollis said, pulling the blanket over her exposed chest.
“Yeah.” Gibbs gave out a simple reply, not hiding his content.
He looked into her green eyes, taking every second to examine them carefully. Her green eyes were gentle and caring, reminiscent of their previous affection. Those eyes, after all the piercing, chilling glares faded away after work, were peaceful.
“What?” Her arched eyebrows and attentive eyes exhibited her delighted smile.
Gibbs rubbed his nose lightly. “You look different when off-work. Almost…cheerful.”
Hollis placed a gentle kiss on his neck. “So, Jethro, are you saying that I am intimidating at work?” The playful tone in her voice was obvious.
“No, but some of my team are intimidated by you. Indeed.”
“Smart. Has anyone ever told you that you’re an expert at dodging questions?” Hollis smirked.
Hearing this, he flipped on top of Hollis and started to leave a trail of kisses down her throat. “I think I am an expert of something else……”
2---Jacqueline Sloane, 2019
She could have been skiing in Vermont and drinking wine at night next to a cozy crackling fire. Yet she chose to stay in D.C., watching Ellie and Nick delivering the baby home. The truth is, as much she would love some alone time in nature, she felt warm and secure where she was, here with her team, doing something good for others.
The simple forms of happiness count the most to her.
Jack Sloane glanced over her shoulder quickly, taking a look at the man standing next to her. His emotionless face was relaxed and his posture untensed. She was wondering if Ellie and Nick and the baby had evoked memories of his painful loss.
“So, Merry Christmas, Gibbs.” She tapped her shoulder lightly on his arm while keeping her eyes on the house in front of them.
Something in her gesture caught his attention. Gibbs turned towards her, forcing Jack to look into his eyes. He recognized that school-girl like lightheartedness and genuine caring, but some carefully concealed shyness betrayed her.
That moment made his heart flutter. He chuckled. After months and months of half-flirting, dancing around each other, opening up about their own past, that moment was all the confirmation he needed.
He leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. Holding her in his arms, he felt the warmth of her body, the sweet scent of her perfume rushed into his nose.
“Merry Christmas to you too.”
Tonight, they would share that nice bourbon and forget all the chaos in the world.
3---Hollis Mann, 2007
Gibbs watched as Stephanie drove away into the chilly evening. As he went down into the basement he immediately recognized the voices on the cassette tape. The music and laughers and memories of Shannon and Kelly made his body tense and he sat down on the stairs.
He glanced over and saw Hollis turning around, her face astonished and in anguish.
Silence filled the basement after the end of the tape.
“I didn’t mean to…..” Hollis looked into his eyes, not sure why she apologized.
Gibbs run his hand over his face like he was trying to wipe away his pain.
Hollis stood there watching him—silent, remorseful, and distant. She felt tears running down her face and she didn’t have the power to control it. When she knew he wouldn’t walk over and pull her into his arms just like she wanted, she slowly sat down on the floor, leaning against the boat. Her painful sobbing was too loud for both of them.
Finally, he stood up, walked over and sat side by side to her. He started to think about the numerous times he ignored a woman crying—Diane, Rebecca, Stephanie. He turned his back away from their pain, fully aware that he was the cause.
Hollis turned her face towards him, starring straight into his eyes. “Jethro, am I just another mistake for you?”
His silence confirmed her worst nightmare. She gathered all the strength to stand up, gathered her coat, and left without looking back.
Her last words haunted him for years. “Tell me, why am I not enough for you?”
4---Jacqueline Sloane, 2019
She shouldn’t have brought it up. She shouldn’t have showed her defensiveness. And she also probably shouldn’t have lied, and she felt so conflicted afterwards. After making sure only the three younger agents were present, Jacqueline Sloane felt the urgent need to clarify the non-existence of intimate feelings between her and their almighty silver-haired leader.
Feigning innocence was never her strong suit, and she sure as hell was confused—if there wasn’t anything at all, why the sudden urge to prove it? Why the guilty feeling?
She waved goodbye and walked back into her office.
She sure has noticed something between her and Gibbs—the growing intimacy, the relaxedness and comfort he exhibited around her, their occasional beer and steaks and poker nights without those “kids” from work. She was fully aware that she has noticed the almost undetectable scent lingering in his presence—sawdust, bourbon, and coffee. That combination made her feel safe.
The truth is, Jack Sloane wasn’t stupid, yet she wasn’t exactly courageous, secure, or upfront either.
Sometimes she wondered if there have been others who could lean against Gibbs’ desk comfortably and easily like she has been. She figured she wasn’t the only woman who has been to his basement, but it seemed like she was indeed the first one who has learned about his first family. Or was she?
Sometimes she felt triumphant, yet sometimes she felt so defeated.
Determined to say something before she was back home and inevitably drunk, Jack grabbed her phone and sent a text message before she could change her mind.
“need to talk to you”—it was a simple request.
She felt her stomach twitched a little bit as she hit the send button.
The last second she was not sure if she would regret what she just did, the next an unfamiliar painting on the wall caught her attention---where the hell was her old one?
The truth is, just as Jack has been hiding her feelings, Gibbs has been trying to peel off her disguise. He didn’t enjoy the guessing---not analyzing the meaning of Jack’s moth painting, not tiptoeing about their intimacy. He’d rather get rid of the game and let the elephant hang obviously in the room.
She reached out to the sticky note attached to the painting. “Merry Christmas,” it said.
The person and the reason behind were not hard to guess.
She suddenly relaxed and laughed---at that very moment Jacqueline Sloane forfeited her guard and realized her idiotic behaviors.
She sent another text, gathered her things and left her office.
Several blocks away in his basement, Gibbs giggled at his phone.
“Thanks for the painting.” It was a simple reply.
5---Hollis Mann and Jacqueline Sloane, 2020, alternative: if perhaps
Jacqueline Sloane would never think of the day she meets Hollis Mann. Yet they were, staring at each other, Jack standing next to Gibbs’ empty desk and Hollis looking down at her from the stairs. A slight sense of awkwardness quickly built up.
Jack quickly glanced over Hollis—her dark grey blazer and black pants suggested a business visit, strawberry blonde hair in a low bun, eyes calm, lips pressed. When she tucked away a strand of stray hair Jack saw a platinum wedding band fitted perfectly on her ring finger.
Jack watched as she walked downstairs--every step seemed to be nostalgic.
Hollis stopped at the end of the staircase. She nodded to Jack, and something quickly flickered through Hollis’ eyes. A moment ago, the younger woman was sitting comfortably on the edge of Gibbs’ desk, legs crossed, reading a file carelessly. Her existence was so at ease. When Jack saw her, she suddenly stood up, facing her, Hollis was silently amused for a second.
“Well I’ve given the information to Director Vance, I should really get going.” She broke the silence first, resuming walking towards the exit.
There’s no introduction needed--Hollis knew better than to assume she was never a topic of gossip.
“I’ll walk you over……I’m Jack, Jacqueline Sloane.” Jack secretly sensed that Hollis was feeling out of place. She followed the older woman and tried to make up for the lack of welcome.
They faced towards the elevator together pretending everything was as usual, hearing the noise of foot traffic and chit chatting.
The elevator finally dinged. Hollis stepped in, turning around to smile at Jack lightly. She looked at the woman in front of her—white dress framing her figure, dark beige heels, curly hair casually hanging around her shoulder, dark brown eyes sincere and warm.
They could be good friends. Hollis thought.
“Jack, I’m glad he has found you.” Her voice was perfectly controlled and her eyes calm and grateful.
There was no need to explain or to hide.
“It’s nice to see you.” Jack knew a woman sharp like Hollis would figure things out fast, and she was relieved that they could both be honest and upfront.
For a split second before the door was closed, Jack thought she saw tears shining in Hollis’s eyes.
That night, when she drifted into sleep, Jacqueline Sloane dreamt about Hollis Mann, her ice-cold appearance and her fire-torched heart.