Blondie
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June 1995

The south in summer was its own personal kind of hell and Georgia was oppressively hot and humid. Leon Vance wasn’t a huge fan of hot weather in the best of times and today he was especially cranky, wondering why he’d taken this career turn. NCIS seemed like a smart idea after he’d retired from naval service, but he wanted to hit the ground running, not spend time back in school with a bunch of other bored and cranky people.

Today was the first day of class, starting at oh nine hundred. All the students had arrived yesterday. His roommates were all NCIS recruits"Stan Burley, Hank Grisham, Craig Balboa. Leon was the only one who had actual military experience. Grisham and Balboa were recent college grads and Burley had been a congressman’s aide. Middle class boys pretending to be men who didn’t have a whit of life experience.

Leon had been them once upon a time, before the Navy had taken the college graduate and made him tougher. They’d made him a man. And now he wanted to serve them as a special agent.

If the classes didn’t bore him to distraction. Leon loved learning, had thrived at college, but he wasn’t sure he was that man any more. He loved to read and absorbed knowledge but even now he wanted to be out in the world, catching terrorists before they could do any harm, busting drug dealers, spousal abusers.

“We have ourselves a thinker here, boys!” Vance looked up in annoyance as Balboa spoke.

“What’s on your mind, Lee?” Burley added. Despite their differences, he and Burley had formed a bond, ignoring the arrogant FBI agents and chatting most of the flight from DC. He could almost forget that Burley was a pampered rich kid.

“Just want to get out there and work. Not be in school in this swamp all summer.”

“Yeah, but the swamp has advantages,” Grisham added. “You wouldn’t believe the gorgeous blonde on my flight. She’s NCIS too. And some of the new FBI ladies in their definitely not regulation tight T-shirts.

Leon just shook his head as the other men start debating blondes versus brunettes. He didn’t much care either way. A sexy smile and twinkling eyes were more important than hair color. It could be changed anyway. He wasn’t so much older than them but he felt it at times like this. They were all early-twenties, he was mid-thirties, college graduation a memory, his Naval experience his recent past.

He moved out onto the balcony, looking out over the campus. It was huge and self-contained though there were multiple towns not so far away. Leon glanced down at two women coming back from a jog. They wore those fitted bras and skintight shorts and gleamed with perspiration. The one on the right was a brunette with caramel skin and the one on the left who was sauntering toward the building appeared to have blonde or light brown hair, scraped back in a ponytail. And the most striking crystalline blue eyes he’d ever seen. He couldn’t breathe for a moment, just stood gripping the railing, watching her.

She was clearly aware of him as well, first making eye contact and then smiling, a lazy grin and the flash of teeth. His attraction must have been written all over his face. “Hey!” she greeted, looking over Leon’s shoulder. “Grisham, right?”

Leon barely tamped down his annoyance. She wasn’t looking at him after all.

“Yeah, hey Paula.” He nudged Leon. “Hot blonde on plane.”

Paula smirked. “You know Cassie, right? Cassie Yates. NCIS as well. Who’s your cute friend?” She angled a look at Leon now, giving him a broad wink. “Please tell me he’s NCIS too.”

“Yeah, Leon Vance. Leon, Paula Cassidy.”

Leon was way beyond childish antics but he found himself scaling the balcony railing and landing lightly on the ground ten feet below. As he stood from his crouch, he read interest in both sets of eyes.

“Cute,” Paula remarked, a thread of irony in her tone. “For a fourteen year old.” Despite her words, she extended a hand, grasping his tightly. “Great to meet you, Leon Vance. Really great to meet you.”

“You too,” he said in a low voice full of promise.

“Want to be my study partner?” Paula asked, looping her arm through his. “It could be very middle school.” She cocked her head. “As long as you’re not taken. You’re not, are you?”

“No,” he managed to reply through his chuckles. “You’re pretty shy, huh?” She was anything but and they both knew it, but he couldn’t resist teasing her.

She shrugged carelessly and he realized that her running partner had gone inside and they were alone for the moment. Her gaze turned blazing, intense, mood switching into something much more serious. “Life is too short to not grab what you want , Leon. We’re going to be special agents. We could die any time out there. Do you want to live a life of regrets and what could have beens?”

He shook his head wordlessly in the second before her mouth crashed against his in a kiss that made him feel alive for the first time in years.

“You started something, Blondie.”

“Good. Now you’re gonna finish it.”

April, 2007. San Diego, CA
Vance home

Assistant Director Leon Vance stared at the email from the director in shock. It was very brief, detailing the deaths of three agents"Jim Nelson, Rick Hall a few days ago, and their team leader, Paula Cassidy yesterday. He rubbed a hand over his eyes, knowing the telltale stinging was from tears he couldn’t afford to shed.

He and Paula had been magic and fire. Their relationship at FLETC had been one of the defining moments of his life. In a time when he’d been most vulnerable, changing and evolving, Blondie had come along, sweeping him off his feet and putting him on the right path, even though she never knew it. She, just as much as his parents and commanding officers, had made him the man he was today.

Their relationship had only lasted eighteen months but they’d parted friends and had been each other’s close supporters. He’d been ready to fly out to DC when she’d been attacked by the madman, had been ready to go toe to toe with Morrow and Gibbs over the GITMO incident. And DiNozzo? Someday that player would pay.

And now she was gone, taken out in a bombing. Even though they’d only talked a few times a month now, she was his best friend. They’d lost plenty of agents before but this one hurt. Even though he was a happily married man now, Paula was his “could have been” relationship. Some days he wondered if she was his “should have been”.

He poured himself a large measure of scotch and swirled it, their memories playing through his head like a favorite movie.

“Leon, breakfast is ready…” His wife Gwen poked her head into the study, frowning at the drink. “It’s seven thirty, what are you thinking drinking so early. What will the children think?”

He shrugged, hearing but not really seeing his wife. All he had eyes for were the memories of Blondie with the incredible blue eyes.

“Just saying goodbye to a friend,” he replied after a few moments of silence. “Can you leave me alone? Just got some bad news, need some time.”

Gwen sighed and walked out, closing the door behind her. He waited until the soft snick indicated that the door was latched and unlocked the top desk drawer, withdrawing a photo album. As he flipped through the pictures from FLETC, he downed his drink, the burning in his mouth and gut far eclipsed by the burning in his soul.

“Goodbye, Blondie.”