"I really wish you'd told me," Jake had said to Ellie.
Ellie winced at the memory. She hadn't responded, just turned away, not ready to deal with it. She had somehow; she couldn't even remember exactly how, convinced the NCIS shrink that she was coping well but had also been honest enough to say that right now she couldn't see beyond the fact that it was either him or her, had even said she would come back and discuss it again if and when she reached that point. But beyond that, she had no memory of exactly what she said to the shrink. Right now, she had too much anger, too much hurt, too much of too much to cope with and if she stopped working, she'd be paralyzed.
The nonstop cases didn't help. Lately, there had been barely any time to wrap up one case before another came in. Tim had told her that sometimes they will sit and work cold cases for a week at a time but as elevated terror threats were becoming increasingly frequent, not to mention the influx of murders and intrigue, it was just getting a little much.
Ellie glanced over across their section of the bullpen at Tony and Tim. It amazed her how both men coped so easily with this. Of course, Tim rarely talked about anything personal and Tony…well, he hid everything and would've even hid the fact that he had a girlfriend if Tim hadn't seen right through him. She supposed a decade of working together would make them a little more transparent but to her, they were mysteries wrapped up in enigmas wrapped up in steel. Idly, she wondered if she'd ever have that steel.
Her thoughts wandered to Jake and sighed internally. She thought changing agencies, changing jobs would give them more to talk about, different experiences to share, make them closer for the differences rather than the shared common ground of the work experiences of NSA. They were blindsided by the fact that the opposite turned out to be true. They had less to talk about, less to share, less to bring them closer. Jake couldn't talk about cases because Ellie no longer knew about them and no chance to work them. Ellie couldn't talk about open cases under investigation. They both respected the other too much to ask them to talk about things they knew they shouldn't.
It was then she realized just how much their jobs used to be the anchor of their marriage. They were close because the agency was their common denominator. They went to work together, had breakfast together, often had lunch together if no meetings. Now, they were lucky if they shared dinner together. Working the Parsa case with NCIS reawakened her interest in being an agent and jumped at the chance to do so. Was it a mistake? Was this job going to come at the cost of her marriage?
Ned Dorneget arrived and she listened to him and Tim talk as they worked through the complex encryption, both their hands flying across their respective keyboards and Ellie spared a glance at Tony. He focused on his own monitor, ignoring the tech talk nearby and caught his eyes glancing over at Gibbs who sat absorbed in paperwork, his frown lines seemed more pronounced as he sought answers to the questions he had.
Ellie couldn't help but note that the glance Tony shot at Gibbs was full of questions. Both he and Tim had been surprised by the friendship between Gibbs and Jake but none more so than her. She didn't like it. Her boss and her husband being friends made her uncomfortable; like Gibbs was too close to her personal life. She never said anything to Jake about it though; he had the right to befriend whoever he wanted but that didn't mean she had to like it.
Tim and Ned laughed together and Ellie missed what they said but it brought her out of her reverie. Once again, she marveled at how they coped with the stress. She used to snack indiscriminately when she was stressed but she had had to curb that a bit since starting at NCIS. The job demanded more physically and she couldn't afford to put on any weight. It was easier to stay in shape when she worked for NSA as she had a mostly regular schedule and could go to the gym a few times a week but with the demands of a field agent, she had to take what time she could get and try not to overeat. It was a delicate balance because the compulsion to eat was sometimes overwhelming. Not having that crutch to lean on was difficult at the best of times.
She got through the day mechanically, not really interested in the banter between her teammates. She liked Ned Dorneget; he seemed like a good guy but observing and participating in the banter and especially the gossip she usually was interested in was somehow lacking.
Once this case was wrapped up, she had some hard thinking to do about her relationship with Jake. Things had been "off" for over a year now and she had to decide whether she wanted to fix it or let it go. Right now, she was leaning toward letting it go but she also knew stress and the tension from this case was getting to her. She needed to have her head on straight first. Some days though, it seemed like cases were never-ending. Maybe she couldn't afford to wait until the case was resolved because there would just be a new one to take its place, plus the endless cold cases that also needed to be solved.
No, she thought, her back straightening in her chair. Her marriage predated NCIS and it was going to last post-NCIS provided she wasn't killed in the line of duty. I can do this. He's worth the stress and the effort. We're going to get through this. Okay, so doing things as a couple wasn't working so well but they needed more than their jobs to anchor their marriage. So far they haven't found yet but maybe it wasn't something external that needed to anchor them. It wasn't NSA. It wasn't activities. It was something more. Something deeper. Had to be, right? Something more basic, maybe.
It was nearly 9 p.m. when Gibbs finally called it a night and sent them home. She drove home, weary but with a sense of urgency she hadn't felt in quite some time. When she arrived, Jake was sitting in the living room looking through some files he had on the coffee table. He closed them when she opened the door. Ellie took a deep breath and forced herself not to bristle. It wasn't personal. It was just the job. The job was not her marriage.
She dropped her purse, set her gun and badge down on the table by the door and trudged over to the couch and sank down next to him and leaned into him.
"Long day?" Jake leaned down and kissed the top of her head.
"Too long," she confirmed. "I missed you today." She turned her head up to smile at him.
"I missed you, too," his answering smile warmed her heart.
"Have you eaten?"
"Yeah, there's a plate in the fridge. I'll go heat it up for you." He gave her another quick kiss before she straightened to let him stand.
Five minutes later he returned with her dinner and she ate with the gusto she had refrained from the entire day, genuine hunger replacing her obsessive compulsive snacking. Jake sipped a cup of tea while she ate and they idly watched something on TV that Ellie didn't recognize and, at the moment, too tired to care about.
She took her empty plate to the kitchen and poured the water over a tea bag for herself and returned to the living room, sighing as she settled against his side again. They remained quiet for a little while as she sipped her tea and shed the stress of the day.
"Yeah?" he glanced away from the TV to focus on her.
"You know I love you, right?"
He smiled. "Love you, too."
"We're going to get through this, right?"
Jake sighed heavily. "I really want to get through this," His honesty made something inside her melt.
"Me too." She smiled sadly. "I think we're doing it wrong though."
His brow furrowed a little. "How so?"
"We're focusing too much on relating to each other through external means instead of just you and me."
He sat quietly as he thought about it and after several moments nodded.
"I didn't realize it until recently that NSA had been our anchor and when I changed agencies, we've been adrift. It was easy to use the job but now…" she trailed off, suddenly unsure of what to say.
He nodded. "You've changed, El. The job is changing you. It's…it's a lot to take in."
"I think it's made me better, Jake."
"Maybe," his countenance was uncertain, "I just don't like how suspicious you've become. At the airport at Thanksgiving…it was like I was looking at a stranger. I felt like I didn't know who you were anymore."
"I'm still me," she glanced up with a smile. "I just have skills I didn't have before and even more observant and a hell of a shot."
"That, you are." Jake chuckled. "But you have changed," he repeated. "I knew you would when you took the job with NCIS but I guess there was no way to know how much you would change." He winced and Ellie could almost see the wheels turning in his head. "Having to kill someone…That's huge."
Hearing those words, something inside Ellie broke and tears streamed down her face unbidden and unwelcome. "I'm a mess, Jake. I'm a total mess."
Jake responded instantly, drawing her in his arms and holding her close. "I know. I'll help you get through this any way I can."
Ellie cried in his shoulder, soaking his shirt. "Some days," she choked between sobs, "I don't know if I can keep doing this. Other days, I can't bear the thought of walking away." She sat up and swiped at her tears. "I know I need to do this. I feel like I'm making a real difference but it's harder than I ever imagined."
He drew her back into him. "I'm here, El. You don't have to do this alone, I swear. If talking to me isn't enough, you can see a psychologist, whatever you need. Anything at all, okay?"
"I need to talk to someone about it…but I don't want Gibbs to know. Promise me you won't tell him."
"I wouldn't," he promised. "But why wouldn't you want him to know?"
"He has a low opinion of shrinks. He wouldn't understand."
Jake nodded. "What he thinks doesn't matter. If that is what you need, that's what you need, no matter what he or anyone else says."
Ellie sniffled and exhaled a huff of breath she hadn't realized she was holding.
He hugged her close and held on tight. "NSA may have been the port we met on but you're my anchor," he kissed her forehead.
Ellie smiled through her watery eyes. "You're mine too," she hugged him back.
"Come on," Jake nudged her shoulder. "Let's get some sleep. Been a long day and more to come. Let's go to bed early tonight and get a good night's sleep."
"Don't have to tell me twice." she yawned as she stood and they did their nightly routine of turning off lights, putting any dishes in the sink, making sure the door was locked, etc.
Ellie changed into her night shirt and sank down on the bed, allowing her body to melt into the mattress and then curled into Jake as he joined her and turned out the light. "NCIS really got into me," she said in the dark as they settled in trying to find comfortable positions.
"Yeah?" Jake said half-sleepily.
"Yeah, I keep associating our marriage with nautical expressions. We might have to start eating more fish."
Jake chuckled in the dark. "Good thing we like sushi then."
"There is that new Japanese place we passed a few weeks back."
"We'll make a date of it then…next chance we get," Jake promised.
"Awesome," she shifted her position so she was up against him and he turned over and draped an arm around her waist. "Night, Jake."
She started chuckling again.
"What?" he muffled.
"Saying 'night reminded me of the Waltons. I could almost hear Tony saying 'Night John Boy."
"Should I be worried that you're thinking about Tony when you're in bed with me?" he sounded a little more awake.
She elbowed him lightly. "Hardly. He makes so many movie references and TV is just a natural progression."
Jake snorted and then fell quiet for a moment. "You know, we could always watch that together. I liked that show growing up. My parents watched re-runs of it."
"That sounds good," Ellie agreed. "My parents watched it too. It's a nice break from reality."
"Might be good for us," he agreed. "Something to do together alone, not demanding."
"I like that idea. Tomorrow we'll check when they air it and set up the DVR."
"Sounds good," she smiled into her pillow and let her eyes fall closed. It was a small connection but maybe that's what they needed.