She'd kept the envelope sealed until she was settled in her office with her second cup of coffee, and Cynthia instructed to keep visitors from disturbing her. Only then did Jenny take out the envelope, tearing it open with one decisive motion to unfold the test results inside.
She sat for a moment, thumb hovering above the print as if touch could divine something that sight couldn't. As if the gesture, unlike the best medicine and the best doctors, wasn't futile.
Once upon a time there had been a little girl who had spent her days outdoors, running and climbing trees, before coming inside and curling in an overstuffed chair with a favorite book. That girl had loved best the fairytales, in all their mysterious, dark glory, hinting at things that other children's stories would not acknowledge at all.
Sitting at her desk in her spacious Director's Office, Jenny pushed back the impulse to throw down the papers and push herself up, as well as the sudden urge to find that long-gone little girl and talk some sense to her.
The little girl that she'd been had had a very favorite story. The girl in the story had defied everything that her father, her family, and their tradition had expected from her and, rather, set herself her own goals and then set out to achieve them.
The girl in the story had failed. She'd paid with pain and isolation, and then she'd failed.
Jenny was half across the room with the test results crumpled on the desk behind her before she finished that thought.
They were all failing. For now she was just sick, but with every day the drugs did not help, she was one day closer to dying, one day closer to dead, and she had work to do, yet.
That long-gone girl, someone should have told her that striving so hard would burn her out before her time; that she wouldn't get long to enjoy what she'd worked for.
That girl, thought Jenny, and the thought was a distant thing, wouldn't have listened. Her face shifted with that thought into the scowl of the fifteen-year-old, her body drawing itself up and ready as it adjusted to the rebelliousness.
The girl in the story had paid with pain and isolation and it was all worth it, damn it all, regardless of how things have turned out, because these were her choices and her life and nothing could possibly happen that would be worse than giving up her vision so thoroughly it might as well have never existed.
She'd believed it at five and fifteen and thirty-five. It was the arc of her life.
Maybe she'd burned herself out faster, grasping at her life hot and fast as she did; maybe she would have had longer, healthier years if she'd lived differently; but she would have never been herself, and the long and healthy years would have been a prison to her.
It was the arc of her life, and she wasn't dead just yet.
Jenny strode back to her desk, folded the paper back into its envelope, thrust it into her purse and sat down, reaching for the pile of files. She wasn't dead yet and, regardless of anything else, regardless of the state of her body, she was still Director Shepard of NCIS. There were people who depended on her to be that, people who expected– who had every reason and right to expect – Jenny Shepard to be the woman grown from that girl and that child: the woman who had never met an impossibility she would not challenge.
The Little Mermaid had died; unmarried to her prince, her body had turned to ocean foam. She had died, but she didn't lose. The girl Jenny had been thought that the Little Mermaid had gotten another chance at obtaining her second goal because, faced with the impossibility of the first, she'd made her death her own rather than let anyone else choose her life.
This could kill her, but it didn't mean she had to lose.