Revenge was a dish served cold, but regret, it turned out, was even colder.
The revenge she had exacted had been icy, but she herself hadn’t felt warm since, and that long awaited sense of relief she’d promised herself she’d feel hadn’t arrived either.
It wasn’t that she regretted killing the bastard, far from it. She’d spent all these years trying to pin the man down for something, anything, and she wasn’t about to let that hard-won deal with Kort go to waste.
Nor did she regret leaving his body bobbing ghoulishly in the water, but the weight of all she’d sacrificed to get there was threatening to crush her.
She’d sacrificed everyone and everything to get where she was, and mission accomplished, but for what?
Vengeance - vengeance that had not delivered on its promise of salvation.
The Frog was dead, long live the queen, all had been put to rest.
She didn’t cry; that would be a healthy, normal response, and this was neither of those things.
Everything felt so damn fatal.
She reached clumsily for the decanter of bourbon on her desk and sloshed some into a tumbler. Bourbon might have been Gibbs’s drink, but it had become hers long ago.
There was a nasty inkling bubbling within that threatened to rise up and swallow her whole that maybe, just maybe, her father had found himself in hot water, and just maybe he had taken his own life, that maybe the mark on his hand had been caused by something else; not that anyone had been willing to look into it.
Now with startling clarity she understood just how appealing simply removing one’s self from the equation could be. If she just ended it all there’d be no more problems, no more her, and everyone else could just move on and sneer at how horrible she was when she was gone.
If she could feel anything other than hollow, she’d be mortified.
She swigged a mouthful of her drink but it gave no comfort as the burn spread down her throat and into her chest.
The fact that she’d almost killed DiNozzo was also something that plagued her. A stellar agent, loved by many, which was something she was not. Sure, he was a little naive and in need of approval, but he’d trusted her, and she’d used that to her advantage without a second thought. A means to an end.
The team liked her well enough, or at least they had done, but when push came to shove, they could and did close ranks with her on the outside, which her mission had driven them to.
If there was any doubt or delusion about where her place lay, it was gone.
If ever there was any doubt that she’d made the wrong choice, it was drowned out for the depth of longing she felt for what she’d left behind all those years ago.
She missed belonging to the protected unit of Gibbs’s team, and he’d protected her more than most. It had driven Stan Burley crazy to see how quickly Gibbs had taken to her, and even Pacci had been good naturedly bemused, but she’d thrown it all away, for her father’s honour, a dead man forgotten by all but her.
Regret didn’t even begin to cover the pain that bloomed deep within her chest.
She blinked at the stinging sensation in her eyes.
Sure, he was around . They’d been getting closer again, and then Mexico happened, before she decided to push him away when her end goal was finally in reach, Because it wouldn’t do to have someone around that would see through you if given half a chance.
She laughed bitterly, a horribly mirthless sound even to her own ears.
No Family. No husband, partner, children, lover.
Well done to her.
She hadn’t screwed the pooch so much as she had starved it to death and then stashed it in the closet so she could pretend it didn’t exist. But maybes and has-beens wouldn’t keep her any warmer than nothing.
Here lies Jenny Shepard,
sitting at her father’s desk.
Gibbs pocketed a pair of lock picks and slid unnoticed into Jenny’s house for what was the second time that night and shut the door silently behind him. The kitchen was empty, and the lights were off, though there was a faint glow coming from the entry hall.
The first time had been to take the ammo from her gun before she made a mess that neither of them could clean up, but this time was to quell the dread that had been sitting in his gut ever since.
He had seen her leave, dressed in dark clothes as she’d disappeared into the night.
She’d checked her surroundings carelessly and failed to notice him sitting a few cars back in the dark as he’d played the role of unwanted guard dog, blind to all but her target. He understood it, despite not wanting to, and he’d been more worried about her than whatever she’d do to The Frog.
He followed the source of the light and trod the familiar path to Jenny’s study once more, and his heart all but stopped as he reached the doorway and found her slumped forwards over her father’s desk.
She wouldn’t, she didn’t…
Gibbs lurched forward. “Jenny,” he murmured, but she didn’t move. “Jen!” he barked sharply, at which she finally raised her head and blinked at him poisonously.
He exhaled in what was minor relief, but the pain she was exuding was uncomfortably familiar.
“You hurt?” He asked.
She shook her head but remained silent.
He placed his fingers on her neck to check her pulse unnecessarily as if searching for a sign of life, and he felt her blood pulse under his fingers. It was an excuse to touch her and a reassurance, but her expression said the symbolism of it was not lost on her.
“You okay?” He asked, but knew whatever answer she gave was irrelevant.
“No.” She croaked bluntly, but offered nothing more.
He leaned over the desk and got closer to her face. “You wanna talk about it?”
She snorted derisively, her eyes unsettlingly blank. “Talk? You, Jethro? Because I don’t think you’ll like where this one is going.”
He fixed her with a penetrating stare. Eleven years, he’d known her, and oh how far they’d fallen.
The day they’d met was burned into his mind, much like she was burned into his soul, and whatever he’d expected back when Morrow had told him he was getting a new partner, it wasn’t this.
A redhead, a little taller than Diane, whose threats were delivered in a hiss before a yell.
She’d been beautiful, hell, still was, with those liquid eyes and long and very red hair.
She was so different to anyone he’d ever met, and he liked it. Obviously from money, but the silver spoon never really seemed to stick.
The fact that he’d started out by comparing her to his wife was not lost on him. He’d given himself a head slap later for the trouble.
Jenny dropped her gaze to the desk, and if you weren’t paying attention the defeat could be mistaken for being relaxed, but the suffering rolled off her like waves.
A droplet of moisture hit the blotter on the desk in front of her and knew she was crumbling. He didn’t really know what he was trying to achieve, just that he desperately needed to reel her in. If he didn’t do something, he was going to lose her.
He walked around the desk and pulled her chair from under it, turning her around, and she closed her eyes as tears coursed down her cheeks.
He slid an arm behind her and lifted her out of her chair and guided her to the old wingback chair near the fireplace and sat down, and pulled her into his lap as he did.
He held her like a wounded child, with her back cradled against his arm and her legs over the other arm of the chair; he held her like he hadn’t in years.
Gibbs yanked the blanket from the back of it and covered both of them to guard against the chill of the room, and her tears became sobs that wracked her body. He'd never seen her so threadbare. She'd cried when she got shot, she’d cried when age shot someone for the first time, but never like this, and something told him it had been a long time.
Eventually she stilled, and he wondered whether she'd fallen asleep, but then she spoke.
"Why do you care?" She whispered harshly, seeming genuinely perplexed at his presence.
He lifted his shoulder in a shrug. "Just do."
"I don't deserve it. I'm sorry,” she breathed into his neck
He said nothing, but tightened his arm around her back.
Their relationship had suffered a serious blow. He'd always had her six, but her anger and refusal to trust him enough to share the burden had left him out in the cold.
It always felt justified when you were the one with the crusade, but right now all he wanted to know was whether he’ll need a shovel.
He could be angry with her, and hell, he should be, but all he can muster is concern. He bent his neck until his head rested atop hers and settled in for the rest of a long night.
She awoke when Gibbs shifted her weight across his legs, and was reminded of her location by the kink that had developed in her neck. Jenny rolled it back and looked up at him, staring in the twilight of her half-awake state, but soon retreated to the relative safety of leaning on his arm.
She was warm, if not exactly comfortable, which made her wonder if Gibbs had any feeling left in his toes.
The reality of the night before began to settle over her like a shroud.
Emotionally she was a mess hardly befitting of the head of a federal agency, and physically she hurt from the force of crying.
Last night she’d been almost ready to blow herself to hell with everything else.
She allowed herself a moment more to savour the warmth and safety of his embrace before extracting herself from it, feeling the chill of the room as she left the blanket.
She met his enquiring gaze solemnly. “Thank you, Jethro,” she said in a voice that sounded raw even to her own ears.
He shrugged like it was nothing, but his movement was careful. “It’s what friends do.”
“Are we, friends?” She asked, because truthfully, she didn’t know anymore. They had been, but they’d been a lot of things and her mission had pushed what was left of them to the limits.
His lips quirked into a half smile. “Something like that.”
A depreciative smile crossed her own. “That's what I thought. We were once, weren't we?”
“No thanks to me.”
Last night's regret bloomed once more and it hit her with a wave of emotion so strong it all but winded her. She made to leave, only to pause in the study doorway. She turned to face him again. “Do you ever regret the things you didn’t—?” She pressed her lips together and smiled ruefully, unable to finish the question.
He watched her for a beat before he replied. “Do you?”
She bowed her head, letting that be her answer, because looking at her feet was a much safer option for her heart than his face, feeling every bit the coward that she’d always been.
“I’d miss you if you were gone, Jen.”
She inhaled sharply and her gaze snapped back to his feeling blindsided, and swallowed hard to keep fresh tears at bay and nodded once.
“Jenny?” He called once she’d set foot in the hall, which stopped her in her tracks once more.
“Some things come around again.”
He got up from his position in the chair, and as he passed her his hand brushed hers.
He closed her front door behind him with a soft thud, leaving her staring at the space he’d been occupying.
Revenge was a dish served cold, and last night he'd brought her in out of it.
But for now, she had to remember to breathe.