Author's Note: Yes, yes. I decided to finish...Because the response to the first part was way better than I imagined! Thanks so much for your interest! I wasn't sure how it would pan out, but some of y'all ate it up, so here's another dish. Hope you enjoy! Disclaimer: NCIS isn't mine, unfortunately.
A year later, she's sitting on the staircase overlooking the bullpen. It's Saturday, and she's taking a break from her law enforcement studies at a nearby university. She doesn't worry about money, though she has a twenty-hours-a-week job; everything from college tuition to monthly rent is taken care of by the agency. She commutes to school, still living in her and her parents' apartment. Everything of theirs has been left untouched, except when careful hands wipe away dust. Keeping their things intact, she's able to remember them as the breathing, working, laughing individuals that they were. Rather than limp, lifeless bodies on cold pavement. The image is one she's had a hard time forgetting, although the nightmares have stopped. She focuses on other things, now, like catching a killer. She spends so much of her spare time at the agency that the director gave her a photo i.d. and credentials to get into the building on a regular basis. Keep quiet, is all he said. So, she's sitting there, again, staring down at the place her parents used to be. McGee's the only one working, sitting in the desk he occupied as Probie. Helps him think better, he says. She can see him holding a folder. It's a thin case file. The most important of his life, the one with most meaning, and it's the coldest. His best friends were murdered a year ago, and there's no concrete reason why. No suspect, no gun, no motive, no witnesses. Only two graves, a half-empty bottle of scotch (McGee drinks now, sometimes.), and one nineteen year old girl always smiling that strangely familiar smile and telling him, It's alright; we'll catch 'em someday. And she believes it. She really does. It's only the waiting that's excruciating. She's learned to live with the pain, knows it's not going away. But right now, she doesn't feel it so much. She sat here, in this exact spot, thirteen years ago, watching them work. Gibbs strode in, barking, DiNozzo! Two heads shot up in response, though her mother kept her maiden name when they married. As her father rose, their eyes locked. A little girl, six years old, watched the exchange with a gentle smile. They loved each other, and they loved her. The knowledge still carries her.
Even so, something raw throbs beneath her carefully-constructed façade. It's a gaping hole in her heart where closure and comfort should be.
After a vehicle-induced brush with death when she's twenty-one, she lays in the hospital realizing that she's not afraid of anything anymore, and she hasn't been for three years. Because the thing she had always feared the most has already happened. For the first time in a while, hot tears squeeze from the corners of her eyes and mat the hair at her temples, because it's still hard. Half a week later, she's discharged from the hospital, her face cut and swollen, her arm in a sling, and finds herself sitting on a basement floor, watching an old man build another boat. He doesn't say much, except to occasionally explain something about woodworking. These seemingly irrelevant insights teach her something about life, when she listens carefully. He sits beside her after a few hours, and in the silence, she can feel that he loves her like he loved the little girl lost long ago. He knows she needs him, because her child's heart hasn't healed, and he understands that. She lays her head on his shoulder, and he plants a kiss in her hair. The rare show of open affection is enough for now to ease her pain, and she relaxes mind and body almost to the point of sleep. Gibbs pulls her out of the floor and sends her up to the guestroom, where she's staying tonight. She mounts the steps slowly. Reaching the landing, she stops in the doorway, turning. He sees the heart-rending look that passes over her face, and he double-takes. He saw that same expression on another brunette's face, when she, too, stood in that spot, years ago. Lips pursed, eyes hard and ambivalent, deep crease between furrowed brows. That look of heartbreak, confusion, painful resignation. Nearly frantic to see the young woman smile, he says, with more gravity than he feels: Sure am glad that the accident wasn't your fault. I was afraid that you'd grow up driving like your mother. Scared your dad half to death the first time he rode with her behind the wheel.
And she does smile, because she remembers very well that even after twenty-seven years of experience with her, dad was loathe to let mom drive. When the Israeli's techniques became particularly frightening, he'd glance at their daughter in the back seat, making sure she was alive and intact, and mutter, Who keeps renewing your license? To a young girl who secretly found mom's driving to be exhilarating, the joke never got old.
She's black-clad, capped and gowned again at twenty-two. A double-major, graduating with Bachelor's degrees in law enforcement and criminal justice. This summer, she'll finish earning her Associates' degree in criminology. She's going out at the very top of her class, but, really, it doesn't matter much. Of course, she's proud. She worked hard to get where she is now. She's established a reputation for herself as being bright, talented, instinctive. Job offers have come in from everywhere. Boston, New York, Baltimore PD. Federal agencies on the Beltway, too, hope that she'll join their ranks. There's only one that hasn't asked. No offer's been made, nor will it ever be. Because the job's always been hers for the taking. She looks out into the eager, smiling crowd gathered to watch commencement exercises. She sees several familiar faces clustered together, people who came just for her. McGee, Abby, Palmer, Gibbs, Vance, and a handsome young man with loving brown eyes. She's happy, she's smiling, but her chest constricts. She takes her seat on the broad platform and bows her head. All of a sudden, it's hard to breathe. In that moment, buried grief and one thousand, four hundred sixty days of half-sleepless nights take their toll. She nearly loses composure. She realizes that she'd been half-hoping to see her parents somewhere in the crowd. She reaches beneath her robe and fingers the necklace that she hasn't taken off since—well, since. On either side of the Star of David rests a ring, one small and delicate, the other larger. Their wedding bands. Missing from the set is her mother's engagement ring that now sits on her left-hand finger as her own. Constant reminders of the love that was, that is, and that will be. She receives her diploma. Graduates summa cum laude, greets her friends, eats a quiet dinner with her fiancée, and attends the last college after-party of her life. Three a.m. and she's lying on a blanket spread between two graves. She gazes at the stars and lets the balmy early-summer wind tease her curls. There's no one-ended conversation, as she sometimes makes during these private vigils. There's only a silent promise. By August at the latest, she'll be a full-fledged probationary field agent, assigned to the Major Case Response Team. That's been guaranteed. She'll love her job; it's in her blood, pulsing and calling with every heartbeat. But she'll hate it too, because there's always going to be something bitter about a job well done. Something nagging that should be resolved.
She flips onto her stomach and pillows her head on her outstretched arm. She imagines that she's four years old again, lounging on her parents' bed on Saturday morning, nestled safely and warmly between them. Dad telling a funny story while mom gently braids her hair. And she whispers now something simple and sincere. You're more than just a cold case to me.
A/N: Ahaaaa! I guess I'm writing a third part. But not like tomorrow or anything, 'cause I really need to work on updating my other stories. In the meantime, let me know what you think! I'm wondering if maybe my sentences are too wordy and ambiguous to understand. I'd appreciate your tips and input! Oh, and in case you were wondering, one thousand, four hundred sixty (1,460) days is four years, give or take just a little.