Disclaimer: See earlier chapters.
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone that reviewed, and I apologise profously for the delay in posting this chapter. Family issues...and then my muse ran off to Athens, lol, but she's back and nagging me once again, so here you are.
Maybe I am,
Hiding in my own confusion,
Maybe I don't want to see it
The way it really is
(The Way It Really Is, Lisa Loeb)
Jen woke up to the sound of coffee grounding and the smell of bacon. For a moment she was confused as the last remnants of sleep left her, and she tried to recall who it could be in her house. Jethro.
Pulling herself out of bed, Jen threw on a robe, running a brush through her hair attempting to tame it a little. Giving up, she grabbed a band and twisted it all into a loose bun, red tendrils falling softly to frame her face.
Entering her kitchen she paused a moment in the doorway, watching Gibbs move about as though he'd been there every morning. The table had been laid; knives and forks positioned at both ends and a collection of sauces, butter and a small stack of toast lay in the centre. The toaster popped and Gibbs reached over to pull out another two slices. In one movement he slid the bacon out of the frying pan and onto a plate and spun around to drop the extra toast onto the table. Looking up as he reached behind him for the plate of bacon he wasn't surprised to see Jen standing there watching him.
"Your breakfast Madame Director." At first Jen thought that he was still acting as he was the night before, but then she caught sight of his smile as he turned to get their coffee's and she accepted her place. As he sat down in front of her and started helping himself to toast, she wondered whether he was this domestic with the other agents, or if she was just lucky.
"So who's the unlucky agent watching me today?" Jen asked as she showed her badge at the front entrance. When they were both through and heading for the elevator, Gibbs finally answered.
"McGee and Abby."
The doors closed and the elevator started moving. Within a second she had hit the emergency stop.
"McGee and Abby? Abby's not a Field Agent Gibbs." Jen looked at him for an explanation. It was bad enough that he wouldn't discuss any aspects of the "case" with her, but now to expect her to be watched by the forensic scientist. That was asking for a little too much under blind faith.
"I know that Jen. But McGee is busy looking up everything he can on Murray and that means he's been spending all his time down with Abby. Somehow he seems to work better down there." He looked confused for a moment, he'd never been able to so much as think when in the lab, Abby's constant loud music didn't allow for it. "So that means that you need to be down there too." He turned to the Director as she considered his words. He did make sense, and she really didn't want to pull McGee from what he was doing.
"I guess I could do the employee checks. I was going to leave it to the end of the month, but I'll start with the lab personnel." Gibbs grinned at her and pressed the button for the elevator to resume its descent. When the doors opened, he stepped through first and it wasn't until the doors started losing that he was the only one to leave it.
"But first, I have a private conference with SecNav." The doors shut on her smug grin and Gibbs shook his head. She had always done that when they were partners, he couldn't believe he'd forgotten. She wouldn't be in any danger he was sure; MTAC was about the most secure place in the building. Still; if McGee didn't report back to him within two hours that she was down there with them, then he'd start worrying. For now, he had to make sure Agents David and DiNozzo were not annoying each other and actually working.
"Wow this guy was a good shot. I mean, there were no other bullets found in the room, and the one bullet hit straight in the centre of her head. It's like it was drawn to the third eye, I wonder if he's in touch with the spirits and they somehow directed him to shoot there…" Abby trailed off, her mind filled with her own suppositions.
"He was a Sniper." Jen spoke without lifting her head from the paper in front of her.
Both Abby and McGee jumped slightly, having forgotten she was even there. McGee quickly scanned the room, worrying that Gibbs might have seen. He only had two jobs; find out everything about the suspect, and guard the Director. Though both were crucial he had a feeling that if he failed at the latter the boss would kill him.
"A Marine Sniper. Wasn't…"
"…Jethro the same? Yes." Jen finished Abby's question, this time looking up and capping her pen. "But they never worked together, he'd have remembered."
Rising from the stool she'd claimed hours before, Jen moved to stand behind the two, looking at the screens one after the other, which each showed a close up of the autopsy photograph detailing the third victim's wound.
"You two have been pretty quite for the last hour; what have you got so far?" She knew much of what they had found. Since coming down here, Jen had been surprised almost every five minutes by an exclamation from either the Forensic Scientist or the young Field Agent. For a while she'd simply sat and watched the way the two worked together. They finished each other's sentences, announcing the thoughts of the other without a second thought, and in that one moment of excitement induced adrenaline she'd been amazed to see how their body's blended together, their hands working as if from one source to decode files together. She couldn't help but wonder if there was more to their friendship than met the eye. Then, as the two had settled into a quite routine, each researching and analysing their own projects, the peace only interrupted occasionally by one poking the other with the unabashed humour of school children, Jen had turned her attention to the reports she needed to get done. Time had passed slowly, as one report after another was completed, and discoveries were made by the two member team, almost subconsciously she'd been listening as they spoke to themselves and each other.
"Well, there seems to be no order to the way he picks his victims." Abby began, picking up the photograph. "It's obvious he did a primary check on each victim, as he only went after those still in London." She paused and McGee jumped in.
"Murrey's been in Europe since his release two months ago. He went straight after the woman still remaining in England, before going after the others that don't reside there." McGee paused, changing the picture on the plasma screen to show the hated photograph. He moved to stand in front of it, pointing as he emphasised his points. "Miranda Richardson died of Cancer three years ago, after returning to her family home in Germany. We're assuming he knows this, as he has made no effort to go to Germany." The picture flashed, the images of dead women fading to nothing, until only three remained.
"We've already sent some Agents to watch Miss Racheal Francias." He pointed to a short brunette whose frozen smile failed to reach her crystal blue eyes. "But as yet we can't find the last woman, she's listed here as 'Isabelle Thomas' but nothing has come up, except a birth certificate, and a few hits on her Criminal Record. We know that she came back to America two years ago, but she seems to have disappeared since then." McGee finally finished, and Abby, who had been unusually quite during his speech, finally spoke up again.
"We're running everything we can to try and find her, and it could be that her apparent non-existence will slow down Murrey's search for her too." She looked about to say more, but Tim's quite comment stopped her.
"That is assuming he'll even begin his search with her. If he starts his next search for you, then he's going to find out where you work straight away, and then there won't be any point in him searching for anyone else." Jen had a sudden feeling of dread, she was certain she didn't want to listen to anything McGee would say next. Abby was also looking like she expected something awful. The male Agent didn't notice the tense atmosphere building, and continued on unfazed. "In fact, if you think about it, he could have started his first search with any of the names on that list. If he had started with you Director, then the others probably wouldn't even have died."
Distantly, Jen was sure she heard Abby's sharp intake of air, but the sound was cloudy and floated just out of her reach until she was sure she'd imagined it. McGee's last words hit her with the force of a train, the wheels grinding into her brain, the squeal of breaks as her last defences tried to keep the prospect of pain away, and then it was on her, like a waterfall of freezing realisation. They were all dead because of her.
The shivering started first, and she wrapped her arms around herself in a hopeless quest for warmth needed bone deep. Three women dead; all because she had done her job well. The guilt built up inside her, settling like a tonne of bricks in her stomach, rising up as her mind drifted to the images of the woman, their bodies cold and still, their mortal wounds clean, clear; precise. As the guilt rose to her throat, she could feel the beginnings of her lunch following, and without even acknowledging the two people in the room, she ran for the door, and out into the hallway. She could barely see past the corpses in her mind, even as she headed for the nearest bathroom, one hand covering her mouth, the other reaching blindly in front of her. She didn't notice the figures in the corridor, not even after pushing straight through them, almost crashing them both to the floor, did she show any knowledge that they were there, and before either could make a comment, she was gone, swallowed by the restroom door that clicked shut behind her.
For a moment Gibbs just stood in the corridor, his eyes flicking from the lap entrance to the restroom and back again, following the frantic route of his former partner. He'd never seen Jen looking so unhinged. What the hell had happened?
Knowing the best way to get answers, Gibbs squared his shoulders and continued his walk to the lab, Tony trailing behind him, confusion swirling in his eyes.
The sight that met them when the glass doors slide open would have been amusing had they not just seen the Director running from the room. McGee had his face turned down, his hands hung low at his sides, and he flinched at almost every one of Abby's words.
"…the most insensitive thing you've ever done Timothy McGee! Do you even know what you told her? You just about said it was her fault! I can't believe someone like you would even…" Her tirade was cut off when she saw Tony and Gibbs standing in the doorway, various expressions crossing their faces as they tried to make sense of what they had heard.
Jethro recovered first, anger taking dominance of his features as he took one step towards McGee, followed by another, and another, until he stood only inches away.
"What did you say to her?" His voice was hard and sharp, and McGee felt the question drag the words out of him.
"I, um, I…we were discussing the victims, and what we had found out, and I, well…" He couldn't form the words fast enough, and in exasperation, Abby interrupted.
"He told the Director that if Murrey had searched for her first the others wouldn't have died." That said, she redirected her eyes to glare at McGee again, and he dropped his gaze to the floor once more, his shoulders slumping and a sigh of defeat and fear slipping past his lips.
The rational part of Gibbs knew that McGee hadn't meant any offence by the absently thrown statement, but the part of him that still saw the panic in his Jenny's eyes wanted to hit the boy until he bleed. He could imagine how Jen reacted to that statement. He'd seen part of the reaction after all. A battle raged within him. He wanted to check on Jen, to make sure she was alright, but he also needed to know about the case, and to tell them about the newest development. At the thought of the new body laying in the Morgue, combined with the guilt he knew Jen was already feeling, his mind was made up for him. There really was only one choice. Placing a glare of his own on the unseeing 'Probie', satisfied when he seemed to hunch further just feeling his boss's eyes on him, Gibbs spun around, racing from the room and heading for where he knew Jen would still be.
At the sound of fading footsteps, McGee looked up, just in time to be hit with slaps from both Abby and McGee. Leaving him to rub the sore points on his head, Abby turned to Tony, a question on her black lips.
"So what brought you and Gibbs down here?" Tony gave the younger agent one last look, before explaining what he and Gibbs had come down to say.
"We think that Murrey found Isabelle Thomas."
He opened the door slowly, carefully. He was certain no one used this particular set of toilets except Abby, but you never knew, and he didn't want to risk shocking a lot of female agents. Not today. He wasn't sure what he would find. After years as partners, he'd seen the Director in many different states of distress, from vomiting into a bin after her first autopsy to huddling into herself in a corner of their room tears pouring as she realised she'd killed on her first shot, not even giving a chance for survival. But as he stepped into the near empty bathroom he had to say that she truly did still have the ability to shock him.
Her body was pressed up against the counter, the taps of the sink in front of her both on, the cold water splashing together with the hot creating a veil of steam that rose up out of the basin, providing a ghost's curtain between herself and her reflection. She clutched a used tissue in her hand, and dripping of water off of her face gave evidence that her lunch had definitely made a reappearance, but that didn't surprise Gibbs. No it was her eyes that had made him stop to recover himself. The blank emptiness that had him forgetting just how oxygen exchange worked. Sparkling with laughter, frozen in fear, passionate, dangerous, panicked. He'd seen so many emotions in those dark green eyes, but never had he seen them devoid of life like they were now.
Somehow he pulled himself out of the trance he'd fallen into, and moved to stand beside her, forcing himself to keep looking into her eyes. He searched for any sign that she knew he was there, anything that would show him it was all a joke, and that she was fine really. He couldn't find it. Reaching out, he laid a hand on her arm, alarmed to feel it shaking beneath him. It was only then that he turned his gaze from her eyes to look her over, worried when he saw that the trembles were not only in her arm.
"Jenny?" Her mouth opened at his concerned call, but as he listened to her words, he knew that she was still unaware of his presence.
"My fault, it's my fault, should have been me, my fault, me…" She continued on, an endless mantra of torment, that Gibbs knew he had to break.
Taking both of her upper arms in his hands, he forcibly turned her away from the mirror until her unseeing eyes were fixed on his own. Each word was emphasised by a shake as he attempted to reach her.
"It is not your fault! Do you hear me Jen? It wasn't your fault!" It seemed that he had gotten through to her, at least partially as she had once again fallen silent. It wasn't much, but it was better than hearing the ragged sound of those baseless allegations falling from her lips. McGee wasn't going to know what had hit him when he next saw him. It didn't matter whether the young agent's intentions had been harmful or not, he was going to pay.
"Damn Jen, snap out of it! You've faced worse than this before, and you've stayed strong." Gaining no response, and still seeing little life in those painful eyes, Gibbs reacted in frustration and unadulterated worry, pulling her unresisting body towards his own, hugging her closely as he spoke into her hair. Gradually he lowered them both to the tiled floor, as he continued to recall times long past.
"Do you remember that mission in Serbia? After it, when we were trapped in that little farmhouse with the Monopoly game that was missing a die. Do you remember how we passed the time? The mornings when we would just lay together." He brought a hand up to touch the short red strands that his mouth was brushing against. "You're hair was brown then, wasn't it? But you know I always preferred it red." He paused, feeling her shift slightly beside him, only then noticing that the shivers had stopped.
"I know. Just as I liked yours longer." Her voice was rough, but steady, and Gibbs pulled back slightly. Slowly she followed suit, raising her head to bring her eyes in line with his own. Eyes that held a spark of something he couldn't identify, but it didn't matter, because it was there.
In front of his eyes she pulled herself together, although there was still a sense of guilt surrounding her, and stood from the floor, holding out her hand to help him up. He mused as he too stood, that in the past two days he'd spent more time on the floor than his aging body liked. He didn't release her hand as she turned for the door, causing her to pause and look back at him in confusion. A gentle tug and she moved closer again.
"It wasn't your fault Jen. There was nothing you could have done." She nodded at the fierce determination in his voice, even if the words did little to sooth her guilt. She was guilty, at least partially, but she would just have to live with that, and make sure that the Bastard paid for each life he took.
: tbc :
So...was it worth the wait? The next chap should be funnier...some Tony/Jen interaction, and ending on a scene that's been making me laugh since I first thought of it weeks ago. ;)
Talking of which, being halloween I have a new set of drabbles to post. They're Jony (Jen/Tony) drabbles beginning with one on halloween and spaning 6 other seasonal holidays. I'll post the first today, and the rest over the week, if anyone is interested. :)