Disclaimer: Alex is mine, Jen is not. That clear enough?
When Jenny was a little girl, her mother told her that hot chocolate was magic. It made things better. Whenever something happened to make the little redhaired girl cry, from a skinned knee to a boy sticking her braid in glue, her mother would take her into the kitchen and make two mugs of hot chocolate. They'd sit on the stools by the counter together, Jenny swinging her legs and her mother keeping a steadying hand on her back. And her mother was right, the chocolate always did make things better.
So the night her father came home from the hospital and told her that she had a new sister but that her mother had gone to Heaven, nine-year-old Jenny slipped out to the kitchen. By now she knew how to make hot chocolate herself, though Mom had never let her do it alone. She filled the cup and drank it, trying to make herself feel better, but it just didn't work.
Jenny didn't drink hot chocolate anymore. It brought back too many memories, and she just didn't want to deal with it. She'd wanted to blame her little sister for their mother's death, but she'd never been able to blame Alex like that. Axie – as only Jenny was allowed to call her – was a sweet little girl with a mischievous streak that could always make Jenny laugh.
It was different with their father. Oh, Jenny couldn't exactly say he hated Alex, but he was never as good of a father to her as he was to Jenny. Alex, though she was only seven, seemed to understand that their father didn't want to deal with her most of the time and so she steered clear of him. But sometimes it wasn't good enough.
Hearing the shouting even through her closed door, Jenny knew Alex must have done something to set their father off. But he'd probably overreacted, as he usually did. It would almost have been enough to make her hate her father, except that Jenny had always been a daddy's girl and she couldn't bear to think badly of the only parent she had left.
So she tried to make up for it by comforting her sister later. She found the little girl curled up in her bed, clinging to her pale purple teddy bear. Jenny bit her lip. Her mother had bought that bear for her unborn baby, and once Alex had found that out – from their well-meaning Aunt Linda – she'd always clung to it when she was upset. Alex was sobbing into the bear, her small body shaking. Jenny sat down next to her, running her fingers through her sister's tousled red locks. Unlike Jenny's waves, Alex's hair was perfectly straight. Even tangled, it was easy for Jenny's fingers to slide through.
"Jenny?" Alex looked up, her eyes red.
"Hey. What's wrong?"
"I touched Daddy's bottle. The lid's so pretty…"
Oh. The Scotch. Damn. OK, well, most parents would be mad at a seven-year-old near the alcohol – Jenny was sixteen and she knew if she went near it she'd be grounded – but her father had gone too far. A scolding was all that something like that deserved, but the screaming she'd heard had been more than that. Like always.
There had to be something she could do to help. And then it hit her. The hot chocolate. Alex was still young enough for it to work. "Come on. I think I can make you feel better."
In the kitchen, Jenny made two mugs of hot chocolate and sat on a stool, Alex swinging her legs on the stool next to hers. "Mom told me that hot chocolate's magic. It'll make you feel better."
"Really?" Alex said, eyes wide. Jenny nodded.
The two of them sipped the warm, sweet liquid, and soon Alex was giggling, sharing some story about school, and Jenny was smiling, and she could almost believe the magic was back.
Alex was twenty-three now, and she knew that hot chocolate wasn't magic, but after all the guests at her father's funeral had left, she pushed a mug of it into Jenny's hands, praying that there was enough magic in the tradition to chase away the dead look in her sister's eyes.
Jen had been the one to find their father's body, and Alex knew how close they'd been. For her, the sorrow was distant, more like what you'd feel at the death of an acquaintance. It made her feel guilty, but there wasn't anything she could do about it. She just hoped there was something she could do for her sister.
"He didn't kill himself, Axie." Jenny's voice was low and hoarse, but filled with conviction. Alex frowned.
"Jen – "
"He wouldn't. Just like he wouldn't do what they were accusing him of. He was murdered."
"By who?" Alex asked cautiously, knowing she wouldn't be able to convince Jenny that she was wrong. Not yet, anyway.
"By the man they thought he was working with, of course, because he wouldn't take the bribe. And I'm going to make that bastard pay."
Alex took a sip of her own hot chocolate, but the warm liquid wasn't enough to chase away the chill her sister's words sent through her body. She just knew this wasn't going to end well.
Jenny sat at her desk, her hands wrapped around a Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. She hoped that the coffee shop cup would make everyone think it was coffee. The last thing she needed on a night like this was to be teased about drinking something so childish. She was harassed enough as the 'probie' of the group.
She'd had to kill a man today. He'd been a killer, and he'd had a hostage who was now safely at home with her fiancé, but that didn't change the fact that Jenny had taken a life. It had been so much harder than she'd thought it would be. She'd thought that if the guy was a criminal, particularly a violent one, it wouldn't bother her. But it did, far more than she could have imagined, and so she turned to the one comfort she'd always had.
"Coffee's bad for you right now, Shepard," her boss said gruffly. Jenny stared at Gibbs, stunned. The man mainlined coffee, and yet he was saying it was bad for her. Who was this man and what had he done with Gibbs?
She was so surprised that she forgot that she didn't want anyone to know what she was drinking and said, "It's not coffee."
"Then what is it?"
He raised an eyebrow and she said, "What? It's not like it's that weird. People drink it all the time." She glared at him before realizing he'd been trying to rile her up, trying to distract her a little. It was why he'd spoken in the first place.
When he got up – probably to get a coffee refill – his hand rested on her shoulder for one brief instant. The warmth from the quick touch lingered, and somehow was more comforting than the liquid in her cup.
And later, after another rough mission, this time in Europe, she'd tell him why the hot chocolate, and then he would hold her, giving her more comfort than any drink ever could.
Alex sat in the SGC commissary, stirring her instant hot chocolate mindlessly. She knew she was still in shock over Daniel's – well, was death the right word? He was gone, but he wasn't dead, he just didn't exist on this plane anymore.
Sam was grieving, and Jack was too, though his method was by acting like nothing was wrong, and being grumpier than usual. Teal'c was stoic as ever, at least outwardly. And Alex, who wasn't part of the team but was closer to them than anyone else, wasn't even grieving yet, because she was still in shock.
She'd never really lost anyone close to her before. Her father's death hadn't been too hard on her, except for the guilt factor and her concerns about its effect on Jenny. And here, at the SGC, people were lost, but none of her close friends. SG1 always seemed to survive everything. Until now.
She was surprised she could still swallow, her throat felt so tight. Daniel had been the one she was closest to, and the only person she'd ever trusted more was her sister. So to lose him was hard, almost as bad as if it were Jenny who'd died. And there she went again with that idea of 'dead'. But even if, technically, Daniel wasn't dead, he might as well be. He was gone, however you put it, and he wasn't coming back.
But Jonas is here, she thought as she saw the man in question enter the commissary, his every movement hesitant. Jonas Quinn, the Kelownan scientist who, in the end, had been the only one to listen to Daniel. And because of that, he was now stuck here, exiled by his people and tied to the SGC because of his own sense of duty. But everyone still made him a pariah.
So she walked over to him and led him to her table, before getting a mug of hot chocolate for him and pushing it into his hands. "Try this."
"What is it?" he asked, even as he lifted the cup. He was too trusting, she thought. Time here would knock that out of him.
"It's called hot chocolate. I drink it when things go wrong, it's a family tradition. Helps me feel better." She took another sip of her own.
Jonas smiled slightly and tried it. "It's good." He paused, then said, "Why are you being nice to me? Everyone else blames me for what happened to Dr. Jackson – I blame me for it."
"Because it's not your fault. Daniel – " Her voice cracked, but she cleared her throat and continued. "Daniel was doing what he thought was right. It was his choice, but nobody's fault."
Jonas nodded, and took another drink. "Thanks for the chocolate. I think it really does work." The smile he gave her this time was wider, more genuine, and made his hazel eyes sparkle. She smiled back, thinking that maybe, just maybe, things would be OK.
Jenny glanced up from the case file she was reading when her door slammed open, slightly confused. She knew very well that Jethro was at Norfolk, so who…? Then she saw her sister holding two coffee cups, and she smiled. "Hello, Axie."
"Hello, Director," Alex said, grinning. She held out a cup. "Take this and let's go."
"Alex, I have work – "
"And it can wait an hour, come on."
Jenny rolled her eyes, but decided to go. It couldn't really hurt, could it?
After losing her security detail – something she hadn't really tried to talk Alex out of doing – they ended up in the same park where they'd spent a lot of time growing up, sitting on a bench by the duck pond. "So what's with the mocha coffee?" Jenny asked.
"I figured it was enough like hot chocolate to be in keeping with the tradition, but fit better with your high-power job."
"Oh. Speaking of jobs, what brings you to D.C. anyway?"
"SGC's losing funding. They're giving most of it to Atlantis. Daniel's talking to some committee or other about it, and Landry, the new guy in charge, sent me to get Hasling's support. I've only talked to Ravenwood though, which might be more effective anyway. She listens better."
Jenny smiled, recalling the young DESI agent who had risen nearly as high as she had since their work together in New Orleans. The smile faded as she thought of what she'd given up to reach the top, or rather who. Alex picked up on her change of mood immediately.
"How's it going, with Gibbs?" she asked quietly. Jenny sighed, not sure if she was grateful for how easily Alex read her or if she wished her sister didn't know her quite so well.
"It's… I don't really know, Axie. The first day, I could have sworn he was flirting with me. I certainly know what his first thought was when he saw me."
"What, sex?" Alex said dryly. "He's a man, you expected something else?"
"Very funny. He said he missed me, and when I told him it was Director Shepard or ma'am on the job, he asked about off the job. I told him there wouldn't be any."
"Because I'm his boss, Alex. And I left him; I can't just say that now I want him back!"
"I don't see why not, if you do. Do you want me to do the same thing to you that I did to Sam and Jack?"
"Alexandra Jane Shepard, if you lock me in a closet or any other confined space with Jethro, I will make you pay in ways you can't even imagine."
"Well, excuse me for trying to help, Jennifer Elaine," Alex shot back.
"There's nothing either of us can do," Jenny said, shaking her head and taking a sip of her drink in the hopes that it would wash away the lump in her throat. "I made a choice, and I have to live with the consequences. I've accepted that."
"You know you can't lie to me, I know you too well."
"I know, but it helps me convince myself. So just leave it, all right?" She turned her head, focusing on the ducks and trying not to think about anything at all, especially the one man she'd never been able to fully let go of.
Jenny took the warm cup gratefully. The past two weeks had been stressful as hell, and what had led up to them hadn't been much better. La Grenouille had been found murdered, and she had become the prime suspect. Not that she could blame the FBI; she'd have thought the same thing in their position. And speaking of people thinking that… "Alex, you don't think I killed him, do you?"
Alex looked at her, green eyes blank, and for the first time since she'd first confronted her little sister about her job, Jenny felt that she was looking at the DESI agent rather than her sister.
"I don't know. Did you?" Alex asked.
"Why not? You certainly seemed to want him dead."
"I did," Jenny admitted, knowing better than to deny it. She also knew Alex believed her – she was the only one besides Jethro who knew about the eye twitch – but that she was genuinely curious. Which was why she was going to explain. It wasn't like anyone else had given her a chance to, anyway.
"I did want him dead, but… I kept thinking about his daughter. I'd already put her through enough, and I wasn't sure I could do to her what her father did to us."
"To you, Jen, you know Dad and I were never close. But if it was your gun, how did anyone get ahold of it?"
"I told you about the little meeting at the house. Well, I left the gun right where Grenouille did, and the next morning it was gone."
"I'm going to assume you didn't tell the FBI this."
"No, I told them he took the gun instead of leaving it."
"Gibbs knows he didn't. He covered for you then?"
"Yes, but he's sure I did it. That wouldn't really bother me too much – everyone's convinced it was me, after all – but he's so… disapproving of it all. He's being such a hypocrite. I mean, he killed the drug dealer who murdered his wife and daughter, he went after Ari with no proof beyond his damn gut that it even was Ari who killed Agent Todd, and then he has the nerve to judge me for something I didn't actually do!"
Alex tried to think of something to say to that, to the anger and even betrayal she knew her sister was feeling, but she had nothing to say. "Do you think it was Kort?" was what she finally came up with, deciding to focus on the practical.
"Considering he showed up at the house to thank me for getting 'Rene' out of the way, no. And before you ask, I haven't got a clue who did off the bastard, and I don't really care."
"Maybe you should," Alex snapped, setting down her own cup and leaning forward. "You were set up, Jen, and that should worry you."
Jenny knew her sister was right, or would be under normal circumstances. But Jenny knew the circumstances were far from normal. However, that was something she would be keeping to herself for now. So to change the subject, she said, "At least I'm not dying." And then almost cringed at her choice of words. Rather inappropriate, all things considered.
"Not funny," Alex snapped. "When you said you were sick… Damn it, Jen. If something did happen to you…"
"Hey, it's all right. Sure, I have to take these pills, but I'll be fine. And nothing's going to happen anytime soon." Her eye didn't twitch because technically it was true. Nothing was certain yet, and Alex wouldn't be in the dark for very long if something did happen. It was the best she could do. She just hoped Alex could forgive her if things went as south as she was afraid they would – she'd already lost everyone else in her life, and losing her sister would be the worst of all.
Alex took a sip of the machine hot chocolate Jonas handed her while waiting for their flight back to Colorado. She wasn't sure if it was the really bad quality of the drink or her black mood that was leaving such a bitter taste in her mouth.
She'd just left Jenny's funeral, except that it wasn't her sister in the coffin. Jenny had faked her death and fled to London, of all places. And Alex was one of the few who knew the truth. She was pretty sure she was the only one who saw just how screwed up the situation was. She could still remember Ravenwood's explanation as to why Alex was the only one read in. "Jenny figured you're the only one who'd care if she was dead."
That wasn't true. Most of the people at the funeral had been there for image, Alex knew that, because Jenny had been an important person, but not all of them. Some of the people were genuinely sad, and Alex had really paid attention to one group in particular, made up of Jen's former lover and his team, as well as the NCIS M.E. and forensic specialist. Though actually, Dr. Mallard had been read in as well, because what Ravenwood done to make an anonymous corpse look like Jenny wasn't something that could stand up to autopsy. But he hadn't looked any less upset than anyone else.
She'd called Jenny on the way to the airport and her sister had stayed firm in her belief that she'd done the right thing. Totally convinced that only Alex would care, so it didn't matter what anyone else thought. Alex absolutely disagreed, but she didn't know what she could do about it. She'd considered going up to Gibbs and company and telling them the truth, but she knew that wouldn't do much good in the long run. If they were going to find out the truth, it would have to be done carefully, not recklessly, no matter how pissed off she was.
And she was pissed off. Enough so that she'd promptly told her closest friends – SG1 – what was going on as soon as Ravenwood had told her. No one else would know her well enough to know that it wasn't grief being hidden by her control, but anger, and she didn't want to lie to her friends. Lying was never something she'd enjoyed, though the classified nature of her job had made her very good at it. She still told the truth whenever she could.
She was angry that she hadn't been told ahead of time, that she'd spent three hours thinking her sister was actually dead before Ravenwood had called her. She was angry that Leon had lied to her – he'd been her mentor at DESI, she'd trusted him – even if she could understand why. She was angry with Ravenwood for not letting her be part of the op that could still cost her sister her life. And most of all, she was angry with Jenny. She couldn't believe that Jenny hadn't told her what was going to happen or that she seemed to think Alex was the only one who gave a damn. She was even angry with herself. She'd known something was going on when Jenny hadn't seemed to care if she was being set up, and she'd let it go. And now everything was going to hell.
She got up and tossed the cup in the trash can. The hot chocolate wasn't bad after a little while, but it wasn't chasing the bitter taste from her mouth. She wasn't sure anything ever would.
"Alex?" Jonas' voice was soft as she sat back down and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, but all she could do was shake her head.
"I can't talk about it right now. I'm sorry."
She rested her head on his shoulder and tried not to cry. Because it seemed as though the magic was gone for good now, lost in a tangled web of lies and secrets that made her wonder what had happened to them, and if they could ever be saved from what they'd done to themselves.
A/N: OK, a few things here. First, this is part of a larger series, hence the references to DESI, Ravenwood, and characters from the show Stargate SG1. I tried to make this something that could for the most part stand alone, but it is part of that series, so I could only do so much. If you're interested in more, other fics in the A Moment to be Real series appear on my profile. Second, I do believe Jenny killed the Frog in canon, but for the purposes of the series, I changed that. It also made for better conversation in the second-last scene, in my opinion. Third, let me know what you think.