Word Count: 2,425/4,243
Author's Note: Hey, first I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who has favorited or followed this story, along with whoever recced it to the two communities. I really appreciate the support.
Anyway, here's the second chapter, where you find out what Silene wrote, along with what Gibbs' reaction is. Hopefully I got his voice right. Let me know what y'all think.
Jethro stormed back to his desk and slammed his coffee down with a huff. Today was not a good day. It was a horrible day. He hadn't even wanted to get up and come in to work today. But he had, only to be frustrated by the lack of anything to do.
There were no new cases, so his team was stuck on cold case review. Burley and Langer wouldn't know a new idea if it struck them in the face, like he was very seriously considering doing.
On top of that, the new agent, Pacci's probie, kept staring at him, and not looking away, even when he glared at her. He had never had anyone refuse to back down from his glares like that and he didn't like it.
Sure, on any other day, he would probably admire her guts and maybe see about getting her transferred to his team. Be a nice change from his current knuckleheads who still flinched every time he looked at them.
She had good instincts, too. He had caught part of her report on that cold case Pacci had assigned her. NCIS had had the case for six years and no one had ever considered checking to see if there were other cases similar to it. He knew that case had crossed his agents' desks at one point or another over the last six years. None of them had found that connection.
But today was not a good day. He was angry with the world in general. He was angry with Burley and Langer for not catching the serial connection when they had been assigned the Dorsey case. He was angry that an agent on another team had caught it. He was angry that a probie had caught it when experienced agents had overlooked it.
He was angry that his agents weren't providing any new leads on their cold cases. He was angry that Pacci's team had produced two in the last three hours. He was angry that Agent Black kept staring at him. He was angry that she wasn't responding to his glares the way she was supposed to.
He was angry that someone had left a flower arrangement on his desk.
He was angry that- Wait. Flowers?
He blinked and stared at the flowers, not entirely sure he was seeing what he thought he was seeing. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head.
Nope, they were still there.
He stared at the flowers some more, half tempted to just dump them in the trash. Today was not a day he wanted to receive a flower arrangement from someone.
Something stopped him, though, and he studied the arrangement a little closer. He could see seven different types of flowers. There were three large, slightly drooping white flowers; five white carnations; six white flowers that were hanging completely upside down and looked a little like bells; five purple flowers with twelve thin petals; eight star-shaped orange-red flowers; and a single scarlet red flower with five thin petals at angles from each other.
A black ribbon was tied around the neck of the vase.
A silvery envelope rested against the base, Special Agent LJ Gibbs written with green ink and a beautiful calligraphy. He stared at it for a few more minutes before picking it up, surprised at the texture and weight of the envelope. It wasn't paper. If he wasn't mistaken, it was made of parchment.
He turned the envelope over and found a green wax seal containing the imprint of a five petal flower. He glanced from the seal to the bouquet and realized that it was the same as single red flower. He traced the seal with his finger for a few seconds before carefully opening the envelope.
Inside was a tri-folded letter on the same silvery parchment as the envelope and sealed with the same green seal. He carefully opened that as well. A glance at the parchment showed that the letter was written in the same green ink and beautiful calligraphy as his name on the envelope.
He looked at the newspaper clippings that were inside the letter, and was grateful he was sitting down. Someone had printed off a copy of the announcements of his marriage to Shannon and Kelly's birth, the obituaries, the article about their deaths, and the article on the death of Pedro Hernandez.
He clenched his jaw. Who dared go digging into his past? He glared over at Pacci's team. It had to be Black. She had been staring at him all day and he had known in his gut that something was going on with her.
His first instinct was to rip up the articles and the letter, but he hesitated at the last second. His curiosity was getting the better of him. He wanted to know what she had to say before he ripped her a new one and drove her out of the agency.
He put the articles face down on the desk and picked up the letter.
Special Agent LJ Gibbs,
As you can tell by the enclosed clippings, I am aware of what today means to you. I know you won't believe me, but I understand what you're going through.
He ground his teeth together. How dare she claim to know what he was going through? No one could possibly understand how he felt; understand the anger and self-loathing that he hadn't been here to protect them; understand the absolute hatred towards the man that took them from him and the burning need for revenge; the cold satisfaction of being the hand of justice.
I know you believe that you are all alone in your anger and self-loathing for being unable to protect your family; that you are all alone in your dark hatred of the man who took them from you; that you are all alone in your all-consuming desire for revenge; that you are all alone in the satisfaction of dealing justice to the bastard that ruined your life.
He was completely still as he reread that paragraph, over and over, the words echoing in his mind. She had given voice to his very thoughts. Almost word for word. But that was impossible. She couldn't know. No one knew. Not even Mike.
You're wrong. You're not alone. I do understand.
I also understand why you've kept it a secret for so long. You know they won't understand. You know they will pity you. You know they will judge you for what you did.
You don't want that. They wouldn't understand the dark place you were in. How the desire to make him pay overrode all rational thought.
Even worse, they won't understand how it felt when it was over; once he was dead. The emptiness. The hollowness. The loss of purpose. The loss of will to survive.
Revenge was all you had left and when that was gone, the only thing you wanted was to join your girls.
He reread those sentences. That was exactly how he had felt. It was how he still felt to this day. The only thing that had kept him from joining his girls was the knowledge that Shannon would kill him herself if he had committed suicide.
He prided himself on being impossible to read, so how was it that this girl saw things about him that he had kept so deeply hidden?
I know that no amount of meaningless platitudes will make anything better. It won't make the ache go away. It won't bring back what you lost.
I don't pity you. I don't condemn your actions. I can't.
What was that supposed to mean?
But I do empathize. I have lost people who were important to me. For the last three years, I have left this bouquet on their graves. I will do the same again this year and the year after and the year after. Each flower was specifically chosen for a reason.
Five were chosen for their meanings. The blue Forget-Me-Nots, meaning 'remember me always'; the white Carnations, meaning 'remembrance'; the purple Immortal Flowers, meaning 'unfading remembrance'; the white bell shaped Snowdrops, meaning 'consolation'; and the red flowers from the Cypress Vine, meaning 'mourning.'
The large white flowers are Casablanca Lilies. I chose them for my bouquet in honor of my mother, Lily, but I left them in as a reminder to celebrate Shannon and Kelly's lives.
The last flower, the scarlet Catchfly, is my signature. I was named for the flower in its Latin incarnation: the Silene Noeturna.
I know I have only been with NCIS for two months, and I know your reputation around the Agency. But if you ever want to talk to someone who understands, I am here.
You have my deepest condolences, but never my pity.
Silene Marie Black
He dropped the letter on his desk, staring at nothing in particular. How was it that this slip of a girl who had been with the agency two months had uncovered his darkest secret when no one else had in almost ten years? Not even Ducky or Abby knew about Shannon and Kelly. And they sure as hell didn't know about Hernandez.
He had to know. He had to find out what she meant when she said, 'I can't.'
He glanced over and found her staring at him again. Granted, her Senior Field Agent was staring at him, too, probably because of the flowers. When they saw him looking their way, Bartlett quickly looked away, trying to appear busy while Black held his gaze, the way she had been doing all day.
He jerked his head back towards the interrogation rooms and stood, collecting both the letter and the clippings. As he stalked away, he heard her excuse herself and follow him.
He didn't want any record of this conversation, so he banged open the door of an empty observation room. The tech jumped, and a glare sent the man scurrying out of the room, running into Black on his way out.
She watched him disappear down the hallway before stepping into the room.
He was standing against the far wall, his arms folded across his chest, glaring at her. She merely held his eyes with an open gaze of her own as she closed the door behind her, then kept her hands clasped behind her back.
He remained silent for several long moments, staring at her, wanting to see her squirm before he began demanding answers. To his surprise, she didn't. She just stood there, staring right back.
It was a battle of wills, to see who would give in first. It was him. He wanted answers too badly.
"What do you want?"
''Nothing," she said softly, in that accent of hers. "Like I said, I merely wanted you to know you were not alone. There is someone out there who understands."
"How did you figure it out?"
"Your military and NCIS files may be sealed, but newspaper archives are not. It did not take a lot of digging to discover those clippings."
"Have you told anyone?"
"No. And I have no intention of doing so. It's your secret to tell."
"Then why did you go digging?" he yelled.
She didn't react in the slightest. "Because underneath the overall bastardness of your behavior for the last few days, there was a current of sadness and grief. Of overwhelming loss. I know how that can consume, and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help ease that pain."
He narrowed his eyes, studying her. She seemed sincere in what she was saying, but there was still something missing.
"How did you connect the Hernandez article?"
"Because if I were in your shoes, I would have killed him."
"You said you couldn't condemn me. What did you mean by that?"
At that, she finally looked away, staring at the floor. "When I was fifteen, my godfather was murdered in front of me. I chased after his killer to get revenge, but-" She sighed. "I attacked her; did things that I'm not proud of." She looked back up at him. "But she just laughed and said I wasn't strong enough. She was over twice my age, with a lot more experience than me and absolutely no conscience. She made fun of me and ended up getting away. I hated myself for not being strong enough to kill her. I would have. Gladly. If I had just been strong enough."
Jethro stayed silent, watching her closely. Finally, he nodded. "Fine," he conceded. "So this, and the information about my family stays between us."
"Agreed. Like I said, if you ever need someone to talk to, to remember the good times you had with them, I am willing to listen."
He gave a non-committal grunt.
"Are-" Finally, she seemed as hesitant as she should. "Are the flowers okay? Can I send them again? Or would you rather I didn't?"
He thought about that for a moment. "Shan-" He swallowed. "Shannon loved white carnations," he said, giving tacit permission without saying it outright.
She smiled. "I'm glad. I didn't want to upset you. I just wanted to help," she said, opening the door and stepping out.
Surprisingly enough, she had.
He followed her out of the room and quickly overtook her. "You ever get tired of Pacci, say the word."
She looked up at him and grinned. "I think I'll stick with Chris for a while. I like my team. But if that ever changes, I'll let you know."
He just grunted again and picked up the pace, beating her back to the bullpens. She returned a few seconds later and went back to her desk.
Pacci and Yates had returned while they were gone. Pacci was going over the report Black had left him. He asked her a few questions before nodding and disappearing up to Morrow's office.
Bartlett said something to her with a teasing grin, which caused Yates to smack him in the shoulder. He pouted and the two women laughed.
The corner of his mouth twitched involuntarily, which he managed to school back into his normal frown before Black glanced over at him. She sent him an understanding smile and he nodded in recognition. Her smile widened, lighting up her eyes, before she turned back to the rest of her team.
Jethro glanced back down at the letter one last time before looking at the flowers. Maybe this year wouldn't be as bad as all the others.