He didn't respond at first - seeing as it wasn't his name - but then he heard footsteps behind him and a hand grabbed his arm.
The woman who'd grabbed him was vaguely familiar, but in a way that suggested he'd just seen her around somewhere. He was pretty certain he didn't know her, and hadn't married her either, even though her hair was a rather attractive auburn. She was tall enough to look him direct in the eye, and the eyes that met his were warm and expressive.
"Simon?" she said again, her voice becoming a little less certain. There was a desperation there, as if she was hoping for something she hadn't dared hope for in a while.
He was confused, but the vulnerability in her face made him answer more gently than he might usually have done when someone accosted him in the street. "My name's not Simon," he told her, and felt strangely guilty for the sadness on her face. "I'm sorry." It slipped out without thought, and he was almost surprised to realise he'd just apologised to her. Apologies were not his thing, especially when it was something that wasn't even his fault.
She searched his face, looking for something, or maybe someone, she wanted to see there. "I'm sorry," she whispered, "you just... You remind me of someone, is all." She welled up as she continued to stare at him, and her face was pale and drawn.
She blinked, then swayed a little.
"Woah!" He grabbed her arm. She was dead on her feet, he realised, though he wasn't sure if it was simple exhaustion or something deeper.
He guided her towards a park bench, made her sit down, unsure what to do and feeling like he needed to make up in some way for disappointing her. "Can I get you a coffee?" It was pretty feeble, but crying women had never been his strong suit.
She let him sit her down but didn't respond, staring at nothing. The fact she'd mistaken him for someone else suggested she hadn't known the other man that well. But here she was, almost catatonic with grief. It might not make much sense, but he recognised the feeling. Recognised her pain. Grief didn't always make much sense, he supposed. If seeing him had triggered some old, painful memory...
He really didn't want to leave her sitting here alone. "Can I call someone for you, ma'am?"
Her head shot round, and he recoiled from the pain and anger in her expression. "Don't call me ma'am!"
"OK." Another trigger point, and he made a mental note not to get on the wrong side of her if he could help it. She clearly was having a bad day, but he got the feeling she wasn't someone to mess with. "What should I call you, then?"
"CJ," she whispered. "CJ Cregg."
It took a moment, but then he realised that was why he'd recognised her. Someone, somewhere in the bullpen usually had C-Span playing on their computer, and CJ was a fixture. At the press briefings she always appeared confident, together, and completely in control. The contrast with the woman in front of him, who looked like she was holding herself together by sheer willpower alone, couldn't have been more stark.
"Can I get you a coffee, CJ? Or call someone for you?"
She closed her eyes for a moment and he could see her gathering her strength, then she turned to him again. "No. I'm... I'm OK. I'll call Toby."
He had no idea who Toby was, but the idea of him seemed to calm her down a little. "You sure?"
She nodded quickly, seeming embarrassed. He was reluctant to just leave her there, but she was uncomfortable. He could understand and respect that. A woman like CJ didn't want to seem weak in front of anybody, never mind a man she didn't know and had no reason to trust.
The coffee shop he'd been aiming for was just across the way. He could sit and drink at one of the tables in the window, keep an eye on her, make sure she was OK and that someone was looking out for her without making her feel patronised. Even if she noticed him there, she had no way of knowing that he always, always took his coffee to go.
He got up slowly and stood in front of her, turning a decision over in his mind. She looked up at him when he didn't immediately move away, and those big green eyes looking at him with an odd mixture of shame, pain and longing made the choice simple.
He pulled out his wallet and dug a card out, scribbled a number on the back, and passed it to her. She looked at it, glanced up at him, then took it from his hand, but the frown lines on her forehead said she didn't understand.
"If you ever need anything," he said gruffly. He felt a strange kinship with this grieving woman. He couldn't quite imagine why she'd ever call a stranger for help, any more than he could figure out why he was offering it to a stranger, but part of him hoped she would anyway.
He eyes met his again, and there were more tears glistening there, but now she smiled, and looked more like the Press Secretary who regularly wrangled a room full of reporters and made it look like it was easy. "Thank you, Si- I mean, thank you...?"
He expression faltered a little as she nearly gave him the wrong name, but she recovered gracefully. He grinned at her, impressed with her grit in a situation where she clearly felt horribly exposed. "Gibbs," he supplied. "Special Agent Gibbs, NCIS."
Her mouth twitched, and for a second she looked like she really might cry, but she managed to keep hold of her smile. "Special Agent Sunshine," she murmured, or at least that's what he thought she'd said. It wasn't a nickname that made much sense to him, but he decided to let it go. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He managed to stop himself adding ma'am. "Call your friend," he added, in a tone partway between bossiness and concern.
She gave him a tight, brave little smile. "I will."
He smiled back, and nodded, the quick little nod that to his team meant 'good job', then turned and walked away, hoping she'd understood.
Sitting behind the glass of the coffee house he watched her call her friend, and then waited till a dark, balding man showed up. He assumed it must be Toby. They didn't speak, as far as he could tell, but Toby sat next to her, and took her hand. Gibbs recognised the kind of friendship that didn't always need words, and found himself relieved that she had someone like that in her life.
Reassured, he drained his coffee and slipped out the side door, giving CJ back her privacy. She had a friend. She'd be OK. After somehow causing her pain, that was a relief. He wondered if he'd see her again. And then he was back at the Navy Yard, and his thoughts returned to his case.
Author's Chapter Notes:
CJ encounters Gibbs, and old wounds are reopened.