The chapter in which I wrape it all up. Quickly.
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" [Four]
There was a subdued uncertainty in the actions of all. It last throughout the getting ready morning routine and the morning coffee and the quiet drive to NCIS headquarters—the Director road with Gibbs, even in the wake of Kowalski's loud and adamant protests.
It was solemn; the death of an NCIS agent was never good—it was worse when he was a suspected traitor. Jethro had fallen asleep with Jenny; he hadn't spoken to his team, and he knew they'd have been up all night scraping any evidence together for the sake of giving him something.
He needed it proved beyond an ironclad doubt that Robbie Turner had been behind it all.
Because it didn't seem to fit. It didn't feel right.
Upon arrival at work, Jethro made sure Kowalski and Carton escorted Jenny to her office, and he stormed into the bullpen, shooting a piercing look around at his team. They all looked tired. DiNozzo shot out of his seat and almost fell over his trashcan.
"Is the Director okay, Boss?" McGee asked earnestly, his Boy Scout face the picture of concern.
"She's fine," Gibbs answered curtly, looking at DiNozzo pointedly.
"Turner didn't have any relatives. The only one on record—living, at least—is a sister who lives in Arizona. So he didn't have anything to lose—Agent Carton was reluctant to believe Turner did it, because he said no matter what, Turner would have had to sacrifice himself to get the Director, because he pressed the button to arm the bomb," DiNozzo explained.
"I think that gives credit to the Ari theory," McGee piped up. "That kind of sacrifice for the sake of killing a target is akin to suicide bombers."
Gibbs nodded curtly and turned his eyes to Ziva coolly, to see what she seemed to think. She looked at him with guarded charcoal eyes and picked up a file on her desk.
"You need to go see Abby," she said mildly.
"Ooooh, yeah, Boss," Tony said, sucking in his breath. "We think she found something, but she locked herself in her lab and said she'd only talk to you."
Ziva stood up gracefully and swept the file into her arms. She tilted her head towards the elevator.
"You're in charge," Gibbs pointed to DiNozzo, aware he'd probably regret this conversation.
DiNozzo made a noise that sounded like an excited squeal and Gibbs followed Ziva to the elevator.
Once the door closed, she handed the file to Gibbs.
"While they threw paper bits at one another and profiled Turner, I did a full background search on Kowalski, including his locked missions from his time at Mossad," she said smoothly.
Jethro glanced at her and flicked open the file.
"He worked with Jenny there?"
"Occasionally, yes. Jenny's role in work with me was espionage and sabotage; Kowalski, on the other hand, was long term ops and linguistics," the Israeli explained. "He worked intimately with," she paused. "Ari."
Jethro drank in the file.
"Kowalski's loyal," he grunted.
"And Turner is the perfect scapegoat," Ziva returned mockingly. "It is common knowledge he dislikes Jenny."
Jethro shut the file and looked over at her.
"What reason does Kowalski have to be after the Director?"
Ziva shrugged her shoulders.
"Do not ask me. There is no record that he and Ari were particularly close. It is in fact highly likely, due to circumstance, that Turner blew the house when he pressed the button—which he had time to rig," Ziva looked over at him sharply, with her searching eyes. "But I know you Gibbs, and you know that is too simple."
He resisted the urge to slam his fist against the wall.
The elevator opened before Abby's lab, the door to which was, indeed, shut. He marched up to it and turned the knob, banging on it when he found it locked.
"Abs. It's me," he shouted.
A moment later, her eye appeared in a crack in the door.
"Who's with you?" she asked, sniffling a little. He leaned to the side to reveal Ziva.
"Oh," Abby said softly. "She can come in, too," she said, allowing them to enter. Her eyes were red; she looked like she'd been crying.
"What is it, Abs?" Gibbs asked, concerned.
"I miss Kate!" the Goth cried, throwing her arms around Gibbs' neck. He caught her, his eyebrows going up in surprise. Ziva looked away immediately. The admission no doubt made her immensely uncomfortable.
"What brought this on?" Gibbs asked, patting her back.
She leaned back and sniffled again, her lip quivering.
"I miss her too," he said, smiling a little. She whirled around and tugged him over to her computers.
"This," she said, gesturing angrily at the electronic stuff before her. "I was going over the evidence from the Director's house. The bomb was installed perfectly, by someone who knew how to do it—and knew how to make a damn good one, and wire it well. The blast was actually triggered by a cell phone call," she said, clicking on some things. She brought up some numbers.
"Not a button?" Gibbs asked sharply.
Abby shook her head.
"Whose cell phone?" Gibbs growled.
"That's why I thought about Kate!" Abby said, stamping her foot. "I can't trace the call source, but the number and ID that showed up on the motherboard of the bomb was…look—" she pointed at the screen.
Ziva leaned in next to Gibbs, and read the same word beneath the obscure number.
Gibbs didn't say a word. But he straightened up.
"Ziva," he said in a low voice after a moment, "get McGee down here." He turned to the Goth and met her eyes very seriously.
"Abby. It is imperative that you find out whose cell phone that call really came from," he growled. "Jenny's life depends on it."
"How come you're calling her Jenny now?" Abby asked, cocking her head.
"Her life, Abby!" barked Gibbs.
She jumped, and nodded profusely.
Gibbs didn't say another word. He turned on his heel. Ziva was gone. He had the file on Kowalski in his hand. He marched out of Abby's lab—
-and barged into Cynthia's office without pretense, making to stride straight into Jenny's office.
"She isn't in, Agent Gibbs!" Cynthia yelled in exasperation, standing up and smacking her palms on her desk. Gibbs had his cell phone in hand suddenly.
"Where is she?"
"She went out to get coffee," the young woman said irritably. "Then she has a meeting on Capitol Hill."
Gibbs glared at Cynthia as if it were her fault.
"Who's with her?"
"Her security," Cynthia answered, still annoyed. "Stan and Sydney drove her."
Jethro threw an angry look at Jenny's office door. He sat down pointedly on the couch opposite Cynthia's desk.
"Feel free to wait for her for hours on end," Cynthia said sarcastically.
He glared at her stonily. She sat down with a huff, rolling her eyes.
Jennifer Shepard's head was pounding. Senator Kates was an oily, sneaky man, and meetings with him were never enjoyable. She needed his vote on a budget bill, however, and what was supposed to be a quick, friendly negotiation had turned into a rough game of political hardball.
She was tired, emotionally and physically. She was surprised Jethro hadn't attempted to force her to call in to work. Her shoulder was killing her, and because the attack on her home was hushed up to preserve the status quo, the bruise on her lip was drawing quite a few curious looks.
Not to mention that her foot was aching inside her suede boot, which she knew, was at least more comfortable than the heels she usually opted for.
She had been in that stupid meeting for four hours, and her coffee had gone cold and been trashed long before it was over.
"Take the rest of the day, Director," Carton said, for once sitting in the passenger seat.
"I have work to do," she said shortly.
"You also need to recover."
"And where do you suggest I do so? My house is indisposed."
Carton turned and looked at her, lifting an eyebrow.
"Is there some reason we can't take you back to the safe house?"
"It isn't safe anymore," Kowalski growled. He had been in a livid mood all day. He seemed personally offended by Turner's betrayal.
Jenny looked at him sharply.
"You don't suspect Jethro of being involved?" she asked icily, ready to fight for him.
"Not at all," Kowalski answered sarcastically, "You know NCIS policy as well as I do, ma'am," he went on. "We do not assign agents to cases in which they are personally invested which, contrary to what he says, Agent Gibbs apparently is."
"NCIS agents personally invest themselves in every case they take," Jenny said curtly. It was true; some were more personal than others, but every agent got hung up on solving something—and when that happened, it became personal.
"You, ma'am, are biased," growled Kowalski.
"Enough," said Carton tiredly. He felt Kowalski's bitterness was uncalled for and Jenny needed rest. Kowalski was way too up in arms about everything. He needed to scale it back. He was edgy.
"I apologize," Kowalski said after a moment. "I'm pissed off, Director. It's my job to keep you safe and—"
"I know, Stan," Jenny said, turning her head and looking out the window.
She didn't speak another word, until her phone rang and, reading the name on the screen, she answered it.
"Jethro," she greeted in a voice that could be called pleasant.
He sounded tense, and she put up with it.
"My meeting ran longer than expected," she said. "I am on my way back to the office now, against my security's wishes."
"What?" barked Gibbs. Jenny narrowed her eyes.
"Sydney is attempting to coax me into taking the day," she said, a little nettled at his tone. He paused and muttered something about that being a good idea.
"Jen," Jethro said distractedly. "Where is Turner's cell phone?"
Jenny pursed her lips, and then covered the receiver and repeated the question to her agents.
"Where did that come from?" Kowalski asked, turning around in concern. Sydney smacked his shoulder and ordered him to pay attention to driving. He turned around and answered:
"All of Turner's effects are at NCIS," he tilted his head after a moment, seeming confused. "His cell wasn't on him."
Jenny informed Jethro of this fact.
He hung up.
Gibbs stared at his team, and his eyes finally rested on Abby and the report in her hands.
"The call was routed from Agent Turner's cell phone to read as a call from Ari Haswari," Abby said again, confirming what she'd already told him.
And Turner's phone wasn't amongst his effects, meaning it was thus plausible that someone he'd been working with had it in order to keep him- or herself anonymous.
Turner had made the call.
Turner had installed the security system.
Turner had checked the house every night to watch for intruders.
It had to be Turner.
Jethro turned his eyes to Ziva, and she lifted her shoulder as if to say: what is done is done.
But it still felt wrong. He could be over thinking it. This "wrong" feeling cold be stemming from the fact that his subconscious was trying to tell him getting involved with Jenny again was wrong, but he doubted it. Even his subconscious followed his groin when it came to women.
He ran a hand over his face and made a noise of discontent in the back of his throat. He reached out for Abby's file.
"I'll brief the Director's security."
"It could only be him, Gibbs," McGee said. "The equipment was clear when I checked it. It was clear when Abby checked it."
Gibbs nodded absently. He tucked the file under his arm and marched upstairs to Cynthia's office, this time planting himself down to wait. Last time, he had been dragged away by boredom and an inability to just sit.
He wanted to report this; to gauge Carton and Kowalski's reactions and opinions.
It was nearing four in the afternoon.
Jenny was clearly stressed.
He watched her walk around her office, a little cold, it looked like—her coat was still stained with blood and had been forgone—and searching for an envelope of information.
"Damn meeting ran over almost three hours," she swore under her breath. "Go ahead and warm the car up, Stan, I'm going to be late."
"Another meeting?" Jethro asked sharply.
"The one I cancelled yesterday," she said, winching as she pulled her expensive leather briefcase onto her shoulder and the weight of it hurt the injury. Gracefully, she transferred it to the other arm, reaching up and self-consciously touching her lip.
"You haven't stopped since this morning," he growled protectively.
"I don't want to think about it," she snapped. "Let me get through this meeting and then I can have a meltdown about one of my inner circle going rogue," she said sardonically.
He knew it was a defense mechanism, but still, he bristled silently. She had been through a lot in the past few days, and he knew it was taking its toll. It was probably why she'd spilled so much last night.
"And after this meeting with Morrow?" he prompted shortly.
"I am coming back here to finish case reports before the weekend."
"No," Jethro said curtly. "You need rest."
"Which I cannot have if I have to work to meet deadlines over the weekend!" she almost snarled, shooting him a vicious look. "I know what my limits are, Jethro, take the knight in armor act down a notch."
"With all due respect Director you frequently exceed your limits," he said caustically. He'd experienced it before, when she finally collapsed after refusing to take a break.
She knocked something on her desk over in anger and stalked around it, not even a flicker of pain showing in her green eyes when she put full weight on that foot.
"This is what drove me insane in Europe," she hissed. "This attitude you have that you know what's best for me."
"I know a damn sight better than you do, Jen," he shot back just as rudely. "You claim you did what was best for you and I seem to remember you crying all over me about it."
She looked briefly like she'd been smacked in the face. Her jaw set, and she pressed her lips together thinly.
"I will see you later tonight, Agent Gibbs," was her icy farewell.
He sat brooding at his desk, staring absently at his computer screen. He was well aware his team was afraid to speak to him; he looked about as friendly as a bear with a thorn in its paw. He was pissed about that little altercation with Jen and pissed that his gut was still refusing to rest.
"When is the Director due back from her meeting?" Ziva asked mildly, looking over at him. No doubt she was the only one not afraid to take on Leroy Jethro Gibbs when he was brooding.
He glared at her.
"When she's back from her meeting."
Ziva lifted an eyebrow very slowly at him.
"I must speak with Kowalski about what he found at Mossad," she said, as if to herself.
"What?" barked Gibbs shortly.
Ziva looked at him again, unimpressed with his attitude.
"Agent Kowalski was looking into Turner's Ari theory," she reminded him. "It was clearly a diversion, but I wonder how far he was able to get, considering."
Gibbs stared at her.
Kowalski was with her in Israel.
He stared at Ziva, glancing slowly down to his watch to check the time. It had been an hour and a half. She should be making her way back her to break her back working all night as per usual.
"Boss," McGee called his attention, ending the phone call he'd been on. "Abby went back and analyzed the spooky phone call Director Shepard caught, the one with Middle Easter tone?"
Gibbs nodded to show he understood.
"It wasn't actually someone Middle Eastern; it was a perfectly executed accent, so now she's running it against Turner's voice to see—"
"No," Gibbs barked suddenly.
He remembered something Ziva had said.
…Kowalski, on the other hand was long term ops and linguistics…
Kowalski's job had been to research the Ari angle; he hadn't. He knew the ins and outs of the languages. He'd known Jenny's every move since she worked with Mossad after Paris, 1999…
He snatched his phone off his desk and, out of habit, dialed Jen's number, only to immediately end the call when he realized her blackberry had been taken from her. Almost as quickly, he dialed her burn phone.
It rang until it simply stopped, for there was no voicemail on a burn phone.
"McGee," Gibbs barked. He scribbled down the number. They all stared at him now, familiar to his sudden bursts of realization—or whatever you called it. "Track that number."
Gibbs picked up his desk phone and called Cynthia. All it took was for her to tell him the Director had called almost quarter an hour ago to say she'd be back soon. He started pacing. He glared at McGee.
Her meeting with Morrow had taken place maybe ten minutes from NCIS headquarters.
Stanley Kowalski leaned against the Director's black suburban, his eyes on her and his partner narrowly as they walked towards him in the parking garage. The redhead reached up and rubbed her forehead, looking tired rather than frustrated, and said something snappy to Sydney.
Kowalski rolled his eyes.
He held out his hands as Carton and Shepard approached; Carton clicked the unlock button on his keys and the lights on the car flared to signal it was unlocked.
"I'm driving," Kowalski volunteered shortly.
"Shocking," Carton remarked. He saw the Director into the back seat safely—which earned him a nasty look—and situated himself in the front seat. Kowalski took a deep breath and started the car, turning around to look at the Director as the car heated up.
"You already call the office?"
"Ten minutes ago," she answered irritably. "Much as I admire Morrow, he doesn't know when to shut the hell up. Held us up at the elevator," she grumbled.
Kowalski seemed to hesitate. He locked the doors and backed out, his eyes neutrally ahead of him on the road.
"I'm taking you home," he stated out of the blue.
"Excuse me?" she asked, and he could hear the arched eyebrow and set jaw in her voice.
"You are injured, Director, and you are over-taxing yourself," Kowalski shot back. "I am taking you back to Agent Gibbs' house."
"Did he put you up to this?" she demanded coldly.
"Stan," Carton said, looking at him sideways.
"Listen, Director," Kowalski barked, "it's about time you start taking our word without their being a damn temper tantrum about it every time. Turner used to hate it, how we would do something for your own good just for you to bitch about it or give us the slip. I've had enough. You're taking a break."
She stared at him, half in shock, half outraged, and a tiny bit impressed.
She was not, however, impressed he had used her dead agent against her. Traitor or not.
Jenny fell silent though.
She sat back, staring out the window, not at all unaware of the look Carton kept shooting at Kowalski for his behavior. She wasn't all too surprised. She'd seen Stan get nasty in Cairo and Israel; it was why she liked having him around.
Her phone rang a bit later, and before she could even answer—knowing it was Jethro, since he was the only one not in the car who had her burn number—Kowalski plucked it off the consul she'd absently laid it on and threw it on the dashboard.
It rang unattended.
"She's in a moving vehicle," McGee announced mere seconds after being ordered to locate the Director's burn phone. He looked up hesitantly at Gibbs. "The car is near your neighborhood."
Gibbs stormed over to him and leaned down to look at the screen. He reached for the number he'd given McGee, wrote down another on it, and tapped insistently, indicating the agent should locate it as well. Gibbs dialed Jenny's phone again.
Why the hell wasn't she answering?
A dot appeared on the screen next to the dot that was Jenny's phone.
"They're together?" McGee said uncertainly.
Gibbs clenched his teeth. He'd written down Robbie Turner's cell phone number. Kowalski had Turner's phone. Kowalski had made the fatal phone call.
"Tim," he said shortly. "You helped Turner install the Director's security system. You're sure no one had access to it but you and him?"
McGee nodded intently.
"Turner did the wiring and I re-checked all the systems and wired it with her wi-fi system to protect against viruses, Turner and Kowalski—"
"Kowalski?" interrupted Gibbs sharply.
"Yeah, he stopped by around lunch to check it out—he had the number code to lock the alarms—"
He remembered. Suddenly, he remembered, the night he and Jen had slept together again, when he'd come upstairs to chase after her—Kowalski had just left the house to check the perimeter of hers.
Gibbs straightened and turned around. Ziva was already on her feet.
"Get the car," he ordered.
"What's going on?" DiNozzo demanded, standing up hesitantly.
"Go!" shouted Gibbs. He pointed at McGee. "You, with me."
He had his keys in his hand, and he didn't bother with the elevator. He took the stairs, and he hoped DiNozzo had enough sense to let Ziva drive. He trusted Ziva's driving as much as he trusted his own.
Kowalski shut off the car in Agent Gibbs driveway. She was oddly reminded of a similar night four days ago, when she had—
"You planning on refusing to get out of the car again?" Stan asked grimly.
Jenny turned a livid look on him that he could barely discern in the dark and from his vantage point. She unbuckled her seatbelt pointedly.
"Is there a reason you do not want me speaking with Jethro?" she asked sharply, gesturing to her still out of reach phone. It she had listened to it ring ceaselessly at least three more times since the first.
"He's too good," Kowalski answered mystically, and Jenny was reminded of her own flippant words yesterday: He's that good.
Carton got out of the car. He opened Jenny's door, and there was a strangely blank look on his face. He met her eyes and held her gaze firmly for a minute. Kowalski slammed the driver side door shut and stormed up the drive.
Jenny felt like she had in the Czech Republic.
"Jenny, stay calm," Carton said quietly.
She heard him call her 'Jenny'. Never had Carton called her by her Christian name on the job. Something was bothering him, too—no. He knew something. She snatched her phone up, and she got out of the car, stalking past Carton. She wasn't done with Stan. She wanted to have it out with him. His behavior was unacceptable. She flipped the phone open, intent on calling Gibbs first, but as she began to dial, the phone was suddenly knocked violently from her hands.
At the end of her rope, she snapped her head up, eyes flashing, to let Kowalski have it.
Or rather, she was going to, except the barrel of his Sig was staring her in the face.
"Get in the house, ma'am."
Jenny Shepard stared at him. Her throat locked up. She felt like she couldn't breathe.
He looked at her in disbelief.
"It wasn't a suggestion," Kowalski growled. "Get in the damn house."
"No," she repeated stubbornly, her voice low.
"Do you understand what guns do, sweetheart?"
"If you want me dead, shoot me," she said icily.
They stared each other down.
"CARTON!" Kowalski bellowed. She couldn't help it; she flinched. He was loud, and it was already taking all of her self-control to keep it together.
"Carton, touch your fucking gun again and see what happens."
"Easy, Stan," she heard Carton say. "Just a reflex."
"You've got a lot of nerve," Kowalski growled at her.
"You're waiting for something," she threw back tensely. "Or you'd have already put a bullet in my head."
Kowalski's eyes flashed. They were black with rage. She was beginning to understand that Robbie had been framed; Turner had been a scapegoat. Kowalski worked with Ari in Israel.
Stan glared at her over the cold, unfeeling metal of his Sig.
"I'm waiting for him," he hissed, barely above a whisper.
"I am going to finished what Ari started," he continued in this low, dark voice, "and I am going to shoot you right in front of him."
In seconds, she went from director to field agent.
Minus the minor fact that she no longer carried a gun on her; that was going to change if she came out of this alive.
She was unsure what Carton was going to do; she knew he wasn't in on this with Kowalski as he'd warned her—in a way—but she knew he couldn't risk going for his gun again; it meant his death or hers—probably both.
"Have you lost your mind, Stan?" she shouted tensely.
He turned his body full towards her, gun trained directly between her eyes. She went to back up, but he grabbed her arm, twisted it, and held her still, removing her 'run away' option.
"Don't tell me you thought Ari's death would go unpunished," Kowalski snarled.
"What was Haswari to you?" Jenny demanded, flinching when he pressed the gun to her forehead again. She heard sirens. Kowalski was distracted; he smiled, wickedly, something sinister and wild lighting up in his eyes.
He turned back to her, his face a picture of anger and despair and hatred.
"He was everything you are to Agent Gibbs," he spat viciously.
"I didn't kill Haswari!" she shouted forcefully.
Car doors slammed.
"Put the gun down!"
Neither voice was Gibbs', but one of them was Ziva, and the other, she identified as Tony.
"WHERE ARE YOU, GIBBS?" bellowed Kowalski, looking around in panic.
Jenny swallowed hard. She struggled, but Kowalski nearly crushed her shoulder. She knew if he was looking for Jethro—if Kowalski couldn't see him—then Jethro was taking up a position to pull off a deadly shot.
"Stanley you know I can make this shot," Ziva growled.
"You wouldn't risk it," he snarled back. He was probably right. Ziva's bullet could whip past Jenny's ear, or it could take half her skull off. Either was a possibility; it wasn't worth a try.
"GIBBS!" Kowalski bellowed again.
"Let her go, if you want him," Carton ordered sharply. "She didn't kill him, you know it."
"I killed Ari," Ziva barked. Her face was hard. "I killed him."
"I know damn she didn't kill 'im," Kowalski roared. He shoved the mouth of the gun against Jenny's nose and she let out a whimper, the first cry of fear she'd allowed. "Neither did you, you entitled little bitch," he snapped at Ziva. "Why do you think I've got her?"
He jammed Jenny with the gun again.
"Kowalski!" screeched Carton forcefully.
"What does killing me do?" Jenny demanded, struggling to keep her breath steady. She struggled again, and yet he was managing to hold her still. He held her body close to him; a shield. "Dammit, STAN!"
"Oh, it does it all, tiger," Kowalski said darkly. "Same reason Ari went after Kate. After Sciuto. Same reason he tried to get you. It kills him if I kill you—just like it killed him when they murdered his precious Shannon and Kelly—"
"If you can't beat 'em, Stan," Carton barked suddenly. He pulled his gun from his holster and pointed it directly at Jenny. "Join 'em."
He fired his weapon.
And it all happened so fast.
Jenny screamed, so loudly it hurt her throat, closing her eyes and wrenching away, her head spinning. Had Carton fired at her?
When the shot rang from Carton's gun, McGee and DiNozzo promptly and reflexively double tapped him in the chest. Jenny stumbled to her knees on Jethro's front walk and stayed low, collapsed against the concrete porch.
Warm blood sprayed over her and two shots rang over her head. The sound of Ziva double tapping Kowalski. She knew the quick, soundless spray of blood was no doubt from a bullet Jethro had fired.
She couldn't process what happened.
She reached up shakily to rub the blood on her face, pushing herself halfway up with one arm. She put her hand on something soft and yanked it away when she realized it was Kowalski's body. Ziva touched her arm briefly as she bent over the fallen agent, taking his pulse.
"Dead," she declared over her shoulder.
She felt Jethro next to her more than saw him. She closed her eyes briefly in relief as he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her away from Kowalski's body. He sat her down on the other side of his porch and crouched in front of her, resting his gun next to her knee.
"Are you okay? Hey," he reached out and put his hands on either of her shoulders, looking up at her critically. His eyes were so blue. She blinked and pressed her lips together, looking straight at him. She wasn't sure she wanted to look at the carnage. "Jen, he's dead. You hurt?"
She shook her head negative slowly, taking a trembling breath.
"Carton," she managed hoarsely. "He fired—"
"He fired a blank," Gibbs said grimly. "Saw 'im drop the bullets in the grass. He did it to distract Kowalski."
"DiNozzo and McGee. They shot him."
"They didn't know, Jenny," Jethro said quietly. "He risked it."
"To save me."
"It was his job," Jethro reminded her.
"To save me," she repeated faintly. She closed her eyes. A few tears escaped her eyes and she bowed her head, pulling her arm up over her face. Five days ago, four men had her trust completely. Now three were dead; one a scapegoat, one a sacrifice, and one a bastard.
And she sat in front of the only man left who had always had every ounce of her trust.
"Turner was set up," she whispered raspily.
He reached up and touched her neck, made it look as if he was checking her pulse, but it was comforting to her. She turned her head and looked at him, her eyes narrow, full of unshed tears, and her face dirty and pale and upset. Her make-up was a mess.
"He used me to get to you," she said. Her brows knit together. She looked devastated. "What if it didn't work? What if you hadn't cared—"
"He knew it would," Jethro interrupted shortly. Bitterly.
Jenny glanced at the team. They were busy with the usual crime scene work, pointedly ignoring the intimacy between their boss and their director. It was so dark. And now, she was beginning to notice, it was so cold.
…his precious Shannon and Kelly…
There were things she didn't know.
She didn't care.
"I can't live like this," she said. She drew in a breath, cleared her nose. She wiped furiously at stubborn, falling tears. And she'd fought with him just before she last saw him, too. "This is what I mean, when I said—I said I can't die with the decisions I—I—"
"You're not dead," he said gruffly.
"It feels like I am!" she burst out. Her face blanched. She looked up to the sky as if asking for strength. "I made the wrong choice."
"No," she stopped him viciously. "I made the wrong choice," she said it pointedly, harshly. "And I knew it when I left you. But I was too damn stubborn and you hurt my pride," she reached up and grabbed his hand on her neck. She stroked his knuckles. "I am sorry," she said softly, her voice catching in her throat. "If that means I'm weak, then I'm weak."
He looked at her hard, scouring the depths of her emerald eyes. He wanted to know if she was sorry for herself or sorry for what she had done. He had been a bastard. He had mocked the way she'd claimed to feel about him. But he wasn't sure she'd ever understand the damage she'd done when she left him. It was damage that Stephanie hadn't come close to healing, damage that—as much as he railed against it—had mended some when he'd seen her face again.
And when kissed her again.
And when touched her again.
And when he had seen her in misery, in tears, choking out her regret—when he'd had time to relish it and then regret some things himself.
"Damn, Jen," he swore half-heartedly. He rested his other arm over his knee and looked at her with a set jaw.
It was like there weren't two dead bodies sprawled on the grass close by. It was as if the team wasn't going about their individual business taking pictures. It was as if it was just the two of them, hidden off on the corner of Gibbs' porch in the darkening cold November night.
"Sydney gambled his life and he lost," she whispered. She drew in a breath, her voice thick and nasal. "That can't mean nothing."
Jethro sighed heavily. He reached up and rubbed his forehead. He slowly turned his fingers under Jen's and squeezed her hand, rubbing her neck with his thumb.
She stared at him, confused, upset…confused.
"Don't have your coat," he pointed out gruffly. He was right. It had blood all over it still from last—was that just last night? And then—had they slept together, just the night before? And Kowalski had tried to kill her—and Turner was innocent.
"I have the coat, Jen," he said a little roughly. "Your coat. Inside, in the closet. If you want it."
So the coat with the letter left on the plane was her coat again. And it was hers, if she wanted it. She figured that was his roundabout way of accepting her apology. Of offering a little of himself again, maybe. Though he had no reason to.
He stood up, waiting, his hands by his side. She flexed her fingers as his hand slipped out of her grip. Her hands were still shaking. She was still in shock. Somehow, though, she knew she wouldn't regret this tomorrow. Or the next day. Or next year.
She stood up, crossing her arms in front of her.
"I want it," she said hoarsely, rubbing her shoulders a little. She winced.
Jethro reached out and brushed his thumb against the healing bruise on her lip. He pulled her head towards him and pressed his lips gently to her temple, right next to her brow. Her eyelashes fluttered against his cheek.
"Jen, for the record," he said huskily. "In Paris. You know what I meant."
She did. That'll be the day. She did know what he meant. Someday, it might be nice to hear it. For now she understood. She understood that something haunted him—had always understood that—and she had the inkling that Ari Haswari had known it, had used it—and so hat Kowalski, in turn.
For now, she 'knew what he meant'.
"I suppose I have Stan to thank for something," she mused grimly.
He arched an angry eyebrow at her, his hand half in her hair, half on her cheek.
"It was his idea to cage me up with you."
Leroy Jethro Gibbs scowled and narrowed his eyes. He didn't know whether the little joke was worth a laugh or not, considering the circumstances. Instead, he pressed a kiss to the corner of Jen's mouth.
Immediately, DiNozzo reminded them they weren't alone with a wolf whistle.
But it didn't matter.
Because it was a far, far better thing they got into than they had ever been in; it was a far, far better understanding they had than they had ever known.
Robbie Turner: Scapegoat; in Atonement, he is falsely accused.
Sydney Carton: Sacrifice; in A Tale of Two Cities, he dies in Henry Darney's place.
Stanley Kowalski: The Bastard; in A Streetcar Named Desire, he is a bastard. (heheh)
The last line of this chapter is quite famous in its original make-up. I tweaked it a bit-but thanks anyway, Charles Dickens!