A/N: This is a tag to 'Lady Boss/Silver Fox'. For 2 reasons: I can't let this universe go, and while I was writing the original, Multicolored Paperclips mentioned an interest in seeing the scene in which Tony finds about about Jenny's family--and I was interested in writing it. Take the story channeled by pre-APUSH test angst, and go with it!
--Also, I still need to write the Sock One-Shot, don't I? Tsk.
Jennifer Shepard, her hat pulled low over her head and her lips turned downward in a small, bitter frown, surveyed the crime scene before her: wide open casket, freshly murdered cadaver tucked innocently inside—aside from the fact it wasn't the one assigned to burial today. And it was murdered. So scratch the innocent part. She was irritated some smart-ass had thought it clever to try and dispose of a victim in a casket, for Arlington National Cemetery was the last place on the planet she wanted to be.
She flicked the brim of her NCIS hat up and beckoned her partner over sharply.
"Set up a perimeter five feet in each direction around the grave," she ordered tersely. "And be respectful, DiNozzo, there's a veteran funeral going on up there," she gestured vaguely towards the hill where the Kennedy graves resided.
"Aye-aye, Captain Boss-Lady," was Anthony DiNozzo's perky response, and his partner shot him a withering glare. He held up his hands and whistled at the look as he traipsed off to do her bidding. He knew well enough when Jenny was in a rough mood, and he knew to back off as well.
She spoke with the pallbearers who had stumbled and dropped the coffin. They had dreaded enough seeing their grandfather tumble out, but were shocked when they found it to be some half-butchered young marine.
Jenny wondered if it was too much to ask for them to have just walked a damn steady line and never discovered the murder. Then she wouldn't have to be here. But they had, and she was, and the sun was beating down on everything including her, and her head and chest were aching.
She took statements mechanically, and shortly; she had a job to do, and she couldn't handle these hysterical people. It irked her that they cried and sobbed over the fact that they'd stumbled upon a dead body other than their own. It wasn't even their loss—didn't they realize that other people lost loved ones too?
Tony helped clear them out, taking numbers, and talked to the funeral director while Jenny ducked under electric yellow police tape to greet Ducky as he lumbered up, a bright smile on his lined face.
"Ah, beautiful morning, Jennifer," he greeted happily. She managed to respond with a half smile and took his medical bag from him kindly, carrying it for him to the body.
"Looks like exsanguination," she remarked in a brittle voice.
Ducky frowned as he looked upon the many wounds peppering the marine.
"A very good guess, my dear," he complimented, squatting down. The live probe was the first thing in his hands.
"The funeral director's less than unhelpful," grumbled Tony, waltzing over to them with a pout on his face. "Creepy, too. Got a time of death?" he asked.
Jenny glared at him.
"Er, I mean, Jenny would like to know if you have a time of death."
Ducky smiled, reading the liver probe. Jenny looked at the scene with glazed eyes, and then glanced over her shoulder, her eyes narrowing towards the distance. A gunshot rang out, solemn and solitary, from the military funeral up the hill. She winced.
"Tony, take over," she barked suddenly, tucking her PDA into its case on her hip. She turned in impeccably high heels and found the concrete path briefly, leaving the crime scene and her colleagues behind.
"Where's she goin'?" she heard Tony ask interestedly.
"I do dare you to ask her, young Anthony," challenged Ducky good-naturedly. Jenny didn't hear Tony's response, but she smirked to herself; that would no doubt deter him, the thought of facing her wrath if he questioned her prerogative.
She made her way slowly and surely, each step painful and yet burned into her memory, up the winding concrete path in Arlington National. Past the present military burial and a cluster of well-kept trees, she found a quieter part of the famed cemetery and broke off the path, ignoring that her heels sank slightly into the mud and making her way through a maze of tombstones to a pair that were nestled near the end of a row.
And she stopped.
In calculated, respectful movements, her jaw set tightly, she removed her hat and looped it around her index finger, and gently tugged the loosened elastic band from her red hair to let it cascade around her shoulders messily. She folded her arms, almost hugging herself.
She removed the façade of NCIS Special Agent Jennifer Shepard and, looking on the tombstones of her husband and son, allowed herself to be Jennifer Laurent again: The Naval Commander's wife, Peter's mother.
Beloved Husband, Beloved Son, the cold marble read.
More gunshots rang from the military funeral yonder, and each shot was like a bullet in her heart, a flash of memory from when she'd stood in this spot, alone, arrayed in black, and watched them bury her entire world with a twenty-one gun salute.
Mommy! Mommy, do you love Daddy or me more?
Oh….oh, I don't know. I can't decide.
Would you love me more if I gave you a cookie?!
Peter's voice, effervescent, bright, eager, echoed in her ears. The childish, innocent sound hurt to the core, because he had never done anything to provoke the harm he'd suffered. Almost two years ago, September eleventh, her husband and her son had died when a terrorist attack devastated the Pentagon and the nation.
Often, she selfishly wondered if it had devastated anyone like it devastated her.
Gingerly, she sat down, shaking her hair back, hugging her knees and swallowing hard. Tears stung thickly at her eyes but she held them back. God, she missed them. Every damn day hurt without them. She missed Peter snuggling up to her to read a book before bedtime and she missed laying in bed with Jim on Sunday mornings before Peter woke up, close, intimate, and content.
They had been ripped from her, and it wasn't fair. She was too young to have lost like this.
Jenny reached up and pinched the bridge of her nose, her lashes wet and her throat burning from suppressed tears. She listened to Peter's shouts and laughter again, and Jim's deep, soothing voice, whispering to her that he loved her.
Gunshots. And leaves, leaves rustled, and a branch cracked, and she didn't hear footsteps until she sensed she wasn't alone. And then there was no hiding.
"Shepard?" asked Tony hesitantly, pausing in his approach.
Her green eyes opened and she sucked in her breath, clearing her nose as she took her hand from her face and glanced at him, her hair tumbling all over. She smirked at him, arching her eyebrow; his eyes mimicked those of a deer in the headlights. She leaned back on her hands and stretched her legs out.
"Busted," she quipped sarcastically, typical cynical Jenny in DiNozzo's eyes. He hesitated again and came forward, standing next to her and squinting as he looked at the tombstones. Peter Laurent. Jim Laurent. She knew the names meant nothing to him. He didn't have a clue. No one at NCIS did.
She liked it that way.
"You know—knew them?" Tony asked awkwardly, the way he hastily corrected his tense making her cringe as much as the gunshots did. Just another reminder that Jim and Peter were in the past; another reminder she never would see them again.
For a minute, Jenny thought she wasn't going to answer. But it was hard to look straight into the tangible symbol of their deaths and disrespect everything they had meant to her, and she couldn't do it. She stood almost briskly, crossed her arms, and looked straight ahead.
She nodded slowly, giving a small gesture with her finger to the first graying stone.
"My son," she remarked quietly, her throat locking up as she moved to the next stone. "His father," she knew her voice was unsteady; precarious. "Jim," she corrected, closing her eyes with a heavy sigh. "Jim, and Peter."
For once in his irritating, skirt-chasing life, Tony DiNozzo was beyond completely silent.
"Jenny?" he asked softly after a minute, worried, shocked, uncertain he heard right. She nodded, pressing a few fingers against her lips lightly. Tony moved forward some, closer to her, his body angled towards her. He looked at the stones. "September eleventh?" he asked, furrowing his brow, reading the script.
"Pentagon," she answered hoarsely. "They died, on impact. My husband and my kid—" Jenny covered her mouth, and she turned her head awake, placing a hand on her hip. Goddamnit, she couldn't believe she was doing this with DiNozzo.
Tony chewed on his lip, staring at the two tombstones. He'd never known Jenny had a family. He could only imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for her to lose them, and in the midst of all that other loss and pain the country had experienced.
In a really weird way, it made him understand her more. Sort of. But you'd have to get inside his head to know why. It just…put all of her sarcasm and bittersweet satirical nature into perspective. Tony hesitated as he watched, acutely aware she was crying pretty hard now. He'd never seen Jenny cry. Hell, he'd never seen his boss bat an eyelid at tragedy. He kind of thought she had a heart of stone.
"Um, Jenny," he murmured, moving a little closer. He rested a hand on her shoulder and leaned around, trying to make her look at him. Throwing caution to the winds, he hugged her, even if it was really awkward.
She was stiff, but she let him, and she leaned into him, her shoulders shaking ever so slightly. She shook her head desperately, lowering her hand a little, her eyelashes fluttering. Her eyes were on the tombs.
"I hope you never have to lose someone you love, Tony," she said shakily, her voice hoarse and soft and tearful. "It's hell living without them," her eyes closed again; tears fell. Her words thickened; she swallowed hard. "I want them back. Every damn day, I want them back."
"Er, those dog tags you always wear…?"
Tony paused. He shifted and wrapped his arms around Jenny firmly, pressing his forehead into the side of her head. He rubbed her shoulder soothingly, looking over at the tombstones again.
"Why keep it a secret?" he asked mildly.
She reached over and squeezed his arm.
"The looks people give me when they know?" she said, pausing a moment. She swallowed. "They just remind me no one will ever share the unfathomable pain. They remind me I'm alone."
"I thought you liked being alone. You said yourself was way more intelligent in conversation than the average human."
"You're an idiot," Jenny growled, biting her lip violently.
"I…," Tony paused, flushing. "I'm sorry," he muttered contritely. He'd said the wrong thing.
"I hate hearing those fucking words," Jenny hissed weakly, her lips shaking as she swallowed. Tony shifted his feet uncomfortably. He took a deep breath and tightened his arms in a genuine hug.
"I don't like it when you cry," he said.
Jenny laughed, pulling away from him, her green eyes bright with disbelief suddenly.
"Jesus Christ, you're bad at this," she remarked. Sympathy; comfort. Yeah, he was. He looked at her forlornly.
"Made you laugh," he quipped half-heartedly. Jenny gave him a sharp, characteristic smirk that quirked up a perfect eyebrow. She nodded, and turned back to the graves with a faraway look, no longer touching him.
They were both silent, and Tony watched her instead of the graves. A few unashamed tears ran down her cheeks until she wiped them with the base of her palm, rubbing them on her dark jeans carelessly. Her make-up smudged.
"Next time, don't follow me off into the woods and you won't uncover any forbidden secrets," she warned snippily, pulling herself back together. "Narc," she snapped at him. He looked slightly offended. She gave him a mysterious flash of the emerald eye.
"Run along and play, Tony," she teased, with less than her usual luster, "before I recover from this particular stage of grief and unleash upon you the next stage: anger, inclusive of head slap."
Tony grinned lopsidedly.
"Hey, uh, Red," he said cockily, swallowing when she glanced over at him, mildly dangerous—well, as she could be, with mascara besmudging her face. "If you ever wanna…talk. You know, uh, let it out. I could listen," he offered in a mutter, lifting a shoulder briefly.
She gave him an impassive look.
She smiled wryly.
"Yeah, if you promise not to make some dumbass remark," she commented. "Unlikely," she added, turning her head again. He shrugged, smirking, and started to leave her alone, eager to go think about what he'd discovered—and snoop around in her file.
He paused. She wasn't looking at him. She was very still, and her sharp eyes were again on the tombstones of her husband and son. She didn't look at him, even when he turned and raised his brows, waiting.
"This," she said, flicking her wrist forward. "Not common knowledge."
It was all she had to say. She wanted his confidence; she had it. He wasn't going to go telling the whole agency about this, for more reasons than one. He wasn't so sure, if something like that had happened to him, he'd go around talking about it. He nodded once, hoped she saw it, and slipped away, already beginning to make up a story for Ducky.
Jenny closed her eyes and re-opened them slowly, letting them dry, melding and weaving her façade back to full beauty and deceptive stability. Absently, with fingers that shook only to the eye of the guardian angels that watched over her, she lifted the broken, charred dog tag, all that was left of Jim.
She touched it to her lips, opening her eyes against a sting of fresh, aching tears, and kissed it, bowing her head respectfully to them.
"I miss you guys," she whispered to them, her voice snatched by the breeze, and maybe carried somewhere they could hear.
She turned her head up; blinked in the sun, thinking, to herself, clinging to a flare of a nostalgic, soothing memory of the one thing she'd always told her rough-and-tumble, offspring of a former Navy SEAL punk little boy.
Usually, she told him to play nice with the little girls. Her and Jim's inside joke about their kid, the handsome devil of a heartbreaker, at five-years-old. She pulled Jim's dog tag from her mouth and smirked wryly. She said to the unseen world:
"Play nice with the angels, Peter."
And she retreated from the secluded, bittersweet sanctuary, the cry she'd had and the weight lifted by Tony's discovery leaving her curiously relieved—and quite prepared to torment the aforementioned playboy.