Word Count: 2,830/5,102
Author's Note: 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 for him. It was, in fact, a horrible idea. He hadn't wanted to get up and come to work today, but he had, only to be frustrated by a complete lack of anything to do.
There were no new cases and normally he would be grateful for that, as it always surprised him just how many twisted ways humans could think of to hurt and kill one another, but today he had nothing but cold cases to distract him from his own depressing thoughts. 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 very rarely had people refuse to back down from his glares like that and he didn't like it one bit.
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 so much as looked at them.
She had good instincts, too. He had caught part of her report on cold case Pacci had assigned her. NCIS had had the case for six years and no one had considered looking beyond the basics to see if there were other cases out there that were similar. None of them had found that connection.
But today was not a good day. He was angry at the world in general. He was angry that Burley and Langer hadn't caught the serial connection when they had been assigned the Dorsey case. He was angry that an agent on another team had caught what so many had missed. He was angry that a probie had caught the connection when so many seasoned agents had overlooked it.
He was angry that his agents weren't providing any new leads on the cold cases that they had been assigned. He was angry that Pacci's team had had two in the last three hours. He was angry that Black kept staring at him. He was angry that she wasn't recoiling from his glares the way she was supposed to.
It didn't help that she was only a couple of years older than Kelly would have been and it hurt to look at her.
He was angry that someone had left a flower arrangement on his desk.
He was angry that- Wait. Rewind. 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 for a moment and shook his head, but when he reopened his eyes, the flowers were still there on the corner of his desk.
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 may not be as well versed in botany as Abby or Ducky, but he could make out 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 like little bells; five purple flowers with twelve thin petals; eight star-shaped orange-red flowers; and a single scarlet red flowers 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 across the front in green ink and 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, though who the hell even used that these days.
He turned the envelope over and found a green wax seal containing the imprint of a five-petal flower. A glance from the seal to the bouquet revealed that it was the same as the single red flower. He suspected that if he knew what the flower's name was, he would be able to figure out who had sent him the bouquet without even opening the envelope.
He traced the seal with his finger for a few seconds, debating if it was worth opening. Finally, he decided to go ahead, carefully using his letter opener to avoid damaging the seal. Inside the envelope 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 glanced at the signature, surprised that he wasn't surprised to find it was from Black. She had been staring at him all morning.
Before reading the letter, he looked at the newspaper clippings that had been included in the letter and was grateful that he was sitting down. Someone had printed off a copy of the announcement of his marriage to Shannon and Kelly's birth, their obituaries, the article about their deaths and the article on the death of Pedro Hernandez.
He clenched his jaw. How dare she go digging into his past? His past was his past and it was none of her goddamned business. He had known in his gut that something was going on with her when she wouldn't stop staring at him all morning, but this was beyond what he had imagined.
His first instinct was to rip up the articles and the letter, but he hesitated at the last second. His damned curiosity was getting the better of him. He needed to know what had led her to go digging and what she wanted with this information. If she was intending to blackmail him, she had another thing coming. No one blackmailed Jethro Gibbs.
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; the anger and self-loathing that he hadn't been here to protect them; 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 exactly word for word. But that was impossible. She couldn't know. No one knew. Not even Mike.
He kept reading.
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 that they won't understand. You know they will pity you. You know they will judge you for what you did.
You don't want their pity. You don't want their condemnation because you know 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 and the will to survive.
Revenge was all you had left after their deaths 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 eating his gun was the knowledge that Shannon would kill him herself it he had committed suicide.
He prided himself on being impossible to read, so how was it that this slip of a newbie agent, fresh out of FLET-C 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. Family, close friends, my first love. 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. I don't mean to overstep any boundaries-
He snorted. A little late for that.
-(more than I already have at least)- 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 back onto his desk, staring at nothing in particular. How was it that this probie who had been with the agency two months had uncovered his darkest secrets 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 same 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 before following 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 tried to protest, but a glare sent the man scurrying out of the room, running into Black on his way out the door.
She watched him disappear down the hall 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 gaze with an open look 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 that 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."
"Have you told anyone?"
"No. And I have no intention of doing so. It is your secret to tell, not mine."
"Then why did you go digging?!" he yelled.
She didn't react in the slightest. "Because underneath the overall bastardness of your behavior over 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? Mexican authorities said it was a gang related shooting."
"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 wall with a distant look in her eyes. "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 particularly proud of." She looked back at him. "But she just laughed and said I wasn't strong enough. She was over twice my age, with far more experience and skill and absolutely no conscience. She made fun of me before she escaped. I hated myself for not being strong enough to kill her. I would have. Gladly, at the time, though I suspect I would have regretted it soon after, but I just wasn't strong enough."
Jethro stayed silent, watching her closely. He had a pretty good idea of when people were lying to him and while he suspected that there was more to the story than what she had shared, he didn't think she was lying. Finally, he nodded. "Fine," he conceded.
"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. He wasn't exactly known for his conversational skills. Still, he supposed the offer was appreciated. Also, it felt good to get that weight off his chest, even if it was just to one person.
"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, even though he couldn't bring himself to say so outright.
She smiled and he was surprised to see how it lit up her face in a way that most of her smiles never did. "I'm glad. I didn't want to upset you. I just wanted to help." She inclined her head at him before opening the door and stepping out.
Surprisingly enough, she had.
He followed her out of the room and quickly overtook her, his legs much longer than hers. "You ever get tired of Pacci, just say the word." It was the closest he would ever get to a thank you.
She looked up and sent him a knowing grin. "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 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 from their errand 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 on 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 scowl before Black glanced over at him. She sent him an understanding smile and he nodded in recognition. Her smile widened, lightning up her eyes again, before she turned back to the rest of her team.
Jethro glanced back down at the letter in his hand one last time before looking at the flowers. Maybe this year wouldn't be as bad as all the others had been.