Thank you to Vizio, tinkerbellblu83 and DreamCatcher for their reviews!
A/N: You were missing these, weren't you? *wink* As fully expected, yesterday chapter caused another bout of "I'll stop reading..." reviews/PMs, showing once again people don't understand the meaning of "Don't assume anything".
So, since I'm really getting tired to waste my breath, especially with people who never review but come out of lurkedom only to tell me they aren't going to read anymore (which never fails to amuse me), I'll tell you this: a few chapters ago (chapter 11), SiriusFan02 left a review listing a few theories about how this story could end. I replied in private telling one of those theories was the correct one. So, if you really can't trust me and follow me till the end, check the review pages for SiriusFan02's, and take a look at those theories. One of them, I repeat, is the correct one.
11- Rule Fifty-One
The sight of what he had believed to be Mike's mutilated body and the anguish caused by the awareness someone else had died because of him, were the only reasons J.P. Dean was able to catch Gibbs unaware and press a gun against him before he could react.
Then, the news the corpse he had been staring at wasn't Mike's but Bell's, and thus the need to discover who was behind all of it, had stopped the vampire from reacting and killing Dean on spot.
The blow to his head had hurt like hell, but hadn't really knocked him out, and Gibbs had secretly enjoyed how hard Dean had had to labor to load his dead-like body on a truck.
The villa where he was now looked like an oasis in the desert. It was beautiful, but some of that beauty was lost to him, for he knew what had paid for it: drug money.
As for the woman serving him a glass of scotch, it didn't take a genius to guess who she was. McGee had told him in passing about his and Abby's encounter with the Reynosa cartel while they were in Mexico, and how a woman had given a gun shell case to them, the brass Gibbs had left on the ridge as signature and wondered how it had ended in Abby's hand.
"You know who I am?" she asked.
"Paloma Reynosa. Head of the Reynosa cartel," he answered, seeing no point in denying it.
"What else do you know?"
"That the drug trade is recession-proof," he commented sarcastically and tried to guess what the hell she wanted.
"Tennessee Williams said: 'We are all sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins for life.'" Reynosa said, looking at the landscape around her. "Surrounded by men with guns, I think of this often. Beautiful, sad, but frank. Do you consider yourself a frank man?"
Gibbs didn't see the point to answer, so he didn't. He wasn't there to comment poetry.
"He also said all cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness. I would expect nothing less from the man who murdered my father," Paloma completed, staring hard at him.
Everything clicked in place. Now Gibbs knew why he and the people he cared for had been targeted. He also had a brutal reminder of why revenge was seldom a good idea. Because revenge breeds revenge, even twenty years later.
Gibbs never really regretted killing Pedro Hernandez. To him, the man got what he deserved, not only for what he did to Shannon and Kelly, but also to the NIS agent who died with them, and to the Marine whose murder his wife had witnessed.
However, sometimes, when he had to arrest people for having done the same thing he did, Gibbs found himself thinking that maybe, had he not let his pain and anger obfuscate his common sense, he could have dealt with Hernandez in a different way. Maybe, as the federal agent he had later become, he could have found a way to ensure justice for his girls and the other victims.
Sometime the awareness of what a kind of hypocrite he was when he accused people of being murderers was almost overwhelming, but he then remembered all the good he had done since that one mistake. He was a good agent, he had saved lives, and if it probably would never atone for what he did, he was determinate to keep doing his job until NCIS regulations about mandatory retirement would make him stop.
"I see you choose your words carefully, Agent Gibbs," Paloma Reynosa said, commenting his silence. "That is good. Your life depends on them."
"I don't usually drink scotch," he just said, gulping down the brown liquid.
His host smirked and sat down at the table as he looked at her intently, wondering what she was up to. If she wanted revenge, why hadn't she ordered Dean to shoot him? Or did she want do it herself?
"You solve crimes for a living," Reynosa began, as if she was discussing the weather, but her keen and unsettling eyes never stopped to observe him. Gibbs could only imagine what she was feeling at looking at her father's killer after so much time. "Is there such a thing as a perfect murder?"
"I've never seen one," he answered, sincere.
"But how would it work?"
"It's not the method, it's the victim," he explained, and added, but only in his mind. And even then everything can completely go wrong…your father's death is a perfect example of it.
"Kill someone no one will miss," Reynosa suggested.
Gibbs smirked and replied softly, "You don't need tips on how to kill me."
The young woman shook her head. "I am not opposed to killing or torture when it suits my needs. That is part of my business. The late Colonel Bell wanted to prove he was a better man than you. He and his men made for a useful ally, but they were a means to an end. Namely you."
"I don't know what you're after, but you might as well put a bullet in my head right now, because you're not gonna get anything," Gibbs answered, idly wondering what would happen if she did just that. Would he be able to heal the damage to his brain? Theoretically yes, since the only thing able to cause the death of a vampire was bleeding out, but he wasn't very keen on discovering if it was true or not.
"It's never easy to turn someone, to change them. A federal agent in Washington, DC? You have value," Reynosa continued with that deceptively soft tone of hers. "I don't want your death. I want your life."
The last line was said with such a chilling tone Gibbs felt a shiver run along his spine. This woman was really dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous opponent Gibbs had ever faced, and that included Eli David and his Kidon vampire.
Reynosa smiled coldly and said, "Follow me. We will continue inside."
Gibbs stood up and followed her in the house—not that he could have done differently with Dean shadowing him.
Once inside, he assessed the situation and decided against trying to flee—at least not until he knew what Reynosa had meant with her last line, and if she posed some danger for Tony and the others.
"You gonna make me suffer?" the vampire asked, as he sat on a low couch. "Threat of a murder charge forces me to work with you? Thing about being a cop called burden of proof."
"You want evidence?" Reynosa answered. "An investigation performed by your own people that conclusively put your signature on the crime."
"Show me. Prove to me I'm guilty of a crime. Bring it out in the open. I know something about convictions. I get 'em and I got 'em…and I can tell you the investigation was everything but conclusive. Just wait and see the report my people will send to the task force," Gibbs urged her, watching closely at her reaction to his lines.
Reynosa just smiled and nodded slightly to Dean, who was standing behind Gibbs.
"I don't care to put you on trial, Gibbs," she commented as Dean approached her carrying something. She sat down, perched on the coffee table and went on, "It may not suit my needs to kill you. But it might be useful to kill everyone you ever met- starting with your friend Mike." And speaking so she unfolded a piece of fabric to reveal a bloody, severed finger. Nausea assaulted Gibbs and the woman continued to speak, with that calm, chilly tone of hers, "Your former mother-in-law comes next."
"Doing me favors now?" Gibbs commented as he regained some of his composure. He couldn't let her see how scared he was for Mike. She was like a wild animal, and he would be doomed if she smelled his fears.
"And then your coworkers. If I must, I promise to personally visit Pennsylvania and shoot your father in the head."
Gibbs did his best not to pale. The idea his father or Tony…or any of the others… could be killed because of him almost strangled his breath away. He knew he would probably go crazy with pain if it happened…he was already going crazy, at the mere idea of it. The desire to jump, bare his fangs and tear apart Dean and Reynosa's throats washed over him, almost like a real tide, as fear, hate and anger coursed through him. The vampire felt his body coil, ready to spring, ready to unleash the predator inside him, the beast that wanted blood…but in that moment a voice from the past penetrated his red-hazed mind:
"Promise me, Leroy. Promise you'll never kill a human as a vampire. War and other life's happenings might put you in the position of having to kill, my son, but never use your superior strength and fastness against humans."
Gibbs remembered that day in a flash. It had been just a few months before his mother had died, and they had been talking about how easily vampires could overwhelm humans, thanks to their enhanced abilities. He had had already shown a fascination for military life, so it was possible one day he would be forced to kill someone.
"I promise, Mom. I'll never kill a human as a vampire," he had answered to his mother's concerns…and his promise still stood, even now, when this cold, calculating woman threatened everyone he held dear.
So Gibbs forced himself to calm down, to dispel his blood lust as Reynosa, completely unaware of how close she had been to being torn apart, pushed a package toward him and explained, "We will start small. Just make sure this package is delivered. How many more lives are your convictions worth?"
The vampire barely heard her. As he regained his calm and rationality, he began to see that there was a way out of all this mess, one that didn't involve bloodbaths and that could put an end to all the threats Reynosa had made against his people. But before he could even start to find the focus he needed, several loud voices were heard, as a group of armed soldiers barged into the house.
Gibbs twisted on his seat to see what was going on and spotted Alejandro Rivera stride toward them with a thunderous look on his face.
"Buenos Dias, Senor Rivera," Reynosa said calmly, as Rivera stopped in front of them.
"Es policia," he said pointing at Gibbs. "Es Americano!"
"Es un problema? We are just having a drink," Reynosa answered calmly, completely unruffled by having a flock of federales in her house.
"Agent Gibbs, has this woman made threats against you?" Rivera asked. "Do you want to file charges for abduction?"
"Remember my advice," Reynosa commented idly when Gibbs turned to look at her. "Choose your words carefully."
"No threats...against me personally," was Gibbs' answer—and, after all, it was the truth. She had threatened to kill everyone he loved, but had threatened nothing against him.
Rivera seemed to be angry at Gibbs' answer and after barking some orders in Spanish, he gestured to the door and ordered the vampire. "Come with me."
"Say adios," Reynosa saluted him with a smirk, and Gibbs had the distinctive sensation they would see each other again—and soon.
But not even that had prepared him for how soon it would turn out to be. Just the time Alejandro Rivera needed to discover someone had stopped the report Abby had made about Pedro Hernandez's death, and they were back at the villa, where a smirking Dean greeted Gibbs with an ironic, "Surprise."
The news Alejandro and Paloma were brother and sister was not that shocking. It made a lot of sense and it explained why Pedro Hernandez's case had ended up on Abby's table. Gibbs wasn't even surprised no one had ever made the connection between Paloma Reynosa and Alejandro Rivera. After all, the report Mike Franks had had about Hernandez, the one Gibbs had checked before setting off to hill the man, had described him as unmarried and childless…and yet there they were, a brother and a sister ready to get their revenge after twenty years.
"Your sister wants to make me her pet," Gibbs said to Rivera as they all returned inside the house and he was again sitting on the couch. "And you? What do you want? You want to put me on trial?"
"I cannot," the young Mexican answered darkly. "Without that report, it will be her way. Or she kills everyone you love. There is no other option."
Gibbs remained silent for a while as Rivera kept on glaring at him.
A plan had started to take shape in his mind, but in order to put it in action; he needed to be alone with the two siblings. He knew he could persuade both of them, but he wasn't sure he could pull it off with Dean and the other guard present. The persuasion was like radio waves…the more people there were present to receive them, the lesser was their effect. The persuasion allowed vampires to give simple commands to a crowd, but the conditioning he was planning was a difficult one, and required his full power to be focused on the siblings only.
But what could he do to be left alone with only Reynosa and Rivera? Then Gibbs noticed the worried look on Paloma's face as she stared at her brother. It seemed like she was afraid he would do something rash. Could it offer the vampire the opening he needed?
Gibbs decided to take the chance; after all, he had nothing to lose. So he recited a riddle he had been taught as a child, one that managed to confuse the two Mexicans, because the solution was just a play with English words.
Dean solved it and then said, "Most retarded riddle I've ever heard."
"My father told it to me," Gibbs commented, although it had been L.J. Davis, his father's best friend and the guy he was named after, that had taught it to him. "My dad," the vampire continued with an amused snort. "Never an easy guy. But it takes a man to make a man, right?"
As hoped, Rivera didn't react well to his words and visibly tensed.
"Hermano," his sister said, trying to calm him down, so Gibbs continued to taut the Mexican.
"When things get rough, I can still go talk to him."
That did it. Rivera lost control and pulled Gibbs' gun out of Dean's belt, and pointed it straight at the still sitting vampire.
"You know so much, Gibbs," the man growled, his face a mask of fury mixed with pain. "Well, tell me this? How will this feel to me? What will it feel like to pull this trigger?"
"Alejandro..." his sister interjected, trying to calm her brother, "don't let him make you into a killer. You are more powerful in the government."
"Bastante, Paloma!" Rivera cried. "I'm gonna shoot him with his own gun."
Gibbs watched calmly as the younger man adjusted his grip over the gun. He could see the sweat on Rivera's brow and tears leaking from his narrowed eyes. The man was about to break, so the vampire decided to inflict the final blow.
"You've never done this before," Gibbs replied softly as he stared into Rivera's eyes. "I have. I've killed men and women in combat, in the line, and in life, and some of them still haunt me. But I never lost a night's sleep over your father." He stood up and went face to face with Rivera. "You want to know what it feels like to be the hand of justice? Then pull the damn trigger yourself and find out. Go on. Do it!"
The younger man started to visibly tremble, as tears streaked down his cheeks. He grimaced and then his arm lowered, as Gibbs had known he would do—because the vampire could read people well, and he had felt the Mexican wasn't someone able to kill in cold blood.
Rivera was weeping openly now and Paloma, ever the protective sister, did what Gibbs had hoped she would do: she sent Dean and the guard away, not wanting them to witness to her brother's emotional breakdown.
This was the moment Gibbs had been waiting for, and he didn't waste a second. He approached the pair and focused his gaze on them.
"Sit down," he said calmly. "We need to talk."
The siblings obeyed, sitting on the couch as Gibbs sat on the long, low table in front of it.
The vampire took a moment to think about best proceed, and then began, his tone low, steady, as the power of persuasion washed over the siblings. "Paloma, Alejandro, listen to me."
They both looked at him, their eyes unnaturally fixed. "We listen to you," they said in unison.
"Your father was killed by a rival drug dealer, not by me. This is all a mistake. Colonel Bell lied to you."
"Our father was killed by a rival drug dealer, not by you. This is all a mistake. Colonel Bell lied to us," the siblings repeated, and an angry grimace appeared on Paloma's face as she pronounced the last line.
"Shh, calm down," Gibbs whispered. "He already got what he deserved. Paloma, now you will give me the notepads J.P. Dean stole from Lara Macy's house and all the other evidence you got from Colonel Bell. Move naturally."
Gibbs watched as the woman stood up and walked away, her movements less zombie-like than Palmer's when the young M.E. had been under persuasion. Her walk looked so natural that Dean, who was standing at the end of the long corridor, nodded to her and she replied in the same way.
A few minutes later, Paloma returned with a small box, which she handed to Gibbs as she sat again near her brother.
Gibbs quickly scanned the content of the box. There was a copy of the NIS case reports about the Marine Hernandez had killed in Oceanside mentioning Shannon as witnesses and about his girls' murder; a resume of Gibbs' career in the USMC with the words 'scout sniper' underlined; Macy's notepads; a copy of Camp Pendleton registry with a note about Gibbs being on leave in June 1991. All documents Bell had found using his connections in the military.
There was no real proof in those documents that Gibbs had killed Hernandez, not even if the unused Lapua bullet Paloma had given Abby was added to the mix. Until the moment the vampire had confirmed it, all the two siblings had was just a theory, nothing more. Yet, they had killed two people, maybe more, based on it.
"Where is Mike Franks?" Gibbs asked, as he put everything back into the box.
"We don't know," answered Paloma.
"And the finger?"
"It was found on the beach. We think it might be his, but we don't know for certain."
"You will forget everything about him and his family, do you understand?" Gibbs ordered.
"We will forget him."
"And you will destroy this," commanded giving the box back to Paloma, who nodded quickly, a bit of fear crossing her face at the anger coloring the vampire's tone.
"As for you," Gibbs turned to focus on Rivera. "You will now take me to a place where I can contact my people. I'll go away carrying this," he picked up the package Paloma wanted him to deliver, "and you won't say anything of this conversation to Dean, understood?"
"Yes," the younger man answered.
"Also, you two will make sure J.P. Dean returns to the states. You have no fault in this, but he has. He will be punished for killing Special Agent Lara Macy."
"Yes," the siblings answered in unison and Gibbs nodded to himself. He was almost done, which was good, because he was tiring fast.
"Now, call Dean back in. It's time I leave."
Paloma gestured with her hand and Dean returned into the room, smirking when he saw Gibbs pick up the grey package and the severed finger.
"Nice souvenirs, uh?" the former ranger commented as he handed Gibbs his unloaded gun.
Gibbs glared at him, and put the gun into his jeans. "I swear I'll find a way to make you pay for Macy's murder," he hissed, but Dean just smirked more.
Gibbs turned to Rivera and said, "I think it's time I leave."
The young Mexican shook his head and stared at Gibbs with wild eyes. He looked like a man just realizing he had committed a terrible mistake, one that could cost him everything.
The vampire nodded imperceptibly, encouraging him and Rivera to stand up, pulling out from his pocket the car keys and saying, "Vamonos."
They walked to Rivera's SUV, climbed into it, and once on the road, the Mexican Justice Department officer said, "I'm taking you to the airport, Agent Gibbs. Director Vance has sent a plane to pick up Colonel Bell's body."
Gibbs nodded, but didn't say anything.
They travelled in silence for a while, the Rivera turned to look at Gibbs with a very concerned expression, "Agent Gibbs, I don't know what to say. This is a terrible mistake. Colonel Bell told us all the proof was against you, and we believed him. We shouldn't have."
"Merton Bell was good with his words, Rivera, and he never forgave me for putting him behind bars. He wanted revenge and used you to get it."
The younger man nodded and asked, "What will happen next?"
"The link between you and Paloma Reynosa isn't my business," Gibbs answered. "I just want Dean. He has killed Lara Macy and Merton Bell, and he is wanted by my government. Let him believe you have me in your hold, and that I'll cover his return to the US. I'll handle it from there."
"As for the rest? The threat against your people?" Rivera pressed, still worried.
Gibbs waved with his hand. "All forgotten, as long as I never hear again about you or your sister."
Rivera nodded energetically, clearly very relieved. "Of course. Thank you, Agent Gibbs."
The vampire looked at the other man for a moment, then relaxed against the seat and took a deep breath.
He had done it. Everything had been resolved for the best and no one else had died. Now all he needed to do was to return home and face Vance…and Tony.
Matter solved, vampire-style! Let me know what you think and remember reviews make me update faster!