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Tinged with Longing

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“I really hope your DNA doesn’t show up on those cigarettes,” he says sincerely, looking straight into her dark brown eyes as they stand mere inches from each other.

She says nothing. It’s as good as an admission of guilt and they both know it.

Still, he can’t help but hope, and it’s a bittersweet regret tinged with longing that lingers on her lips when he bends in to kiss them one last time. It’s a goodbye, one sweeter than most, but a goodbye is an ending all the same.

He hasn’t known her for long, and all endings are sad. He will acknowledge these two facts and move on with his life, and she will know those facts as she lives out a meagre life in a prison that won’t allow her to raise his hopes again.

Karen opens her mouth to say something, anything, so he smiles at her affectionately, a sad crease wrinkling his already tired brow, and she closes it again because they both know how this works and he wishes that not everything ended like this.

A death. A beating. An argument. Endings that differ and differ and wind along to the same unhappy conclusion.

Gibbs picks up the packet filled with cigarette smoke, the last traces of ember fading out to a dull grey, and puts out his arm.

“Shall we?” he says, and she smiles wistfully at him, fondness lurking at the corner of her façade even as her warm brown eyes cool and fill with tears that trace forgotten to the bottom of her cheeks until they patter onto her shirt like raindrops.

He doesn’t do the discourtesy of dragging her away in handcuffs (even though she’s a murderer and deserves whatever he throws at her), and she does him the honour of coming quietly. They don’t match as a couple. They could. But they don’t.

Gibbs’ car is quiet on the empty roads that line the way to the office, and she doesn’t turn on the radio. He’s glad, in a sombre way, because no music will be changed for him because of her. He regrets letting her touch his boat more than he regrets kissing her.

“I didn’t mean for it to end up like this,” Karen says, suddenly, gracelessly, limp arms falling onto the seat like the way her head lolls as the marionette’s strings are cut and he knows that it is the same way that her petty officer collapsed after she put a hole in the back of his
head.

A pause.

“I know,” he responds, and it fills up the bubble of empty space between them and allows it to swell like a balloon of lies and truth and deceit.

He means it. He knows that she didn’t want to go to jail. He knows she doesn’t regret killing Lambert and that their date was partially a ploy to distract him.

He knows that part of it wasn’t.

And yet, none of that knowledge is good enough to beat the hard truth of the DNA sample that lies neatly on the filter of a Llama cigarette in his pocket.

They reach the station without another word, and Gibbs is ever the gentleman and they walk in arm in arm. Picture perfect.

They silently walk along; she has long stopped crying and holds her head up high and even now, he admires her for that. They are similar souls in the end only his morals constrict him tighter than hers do.

“In here please,” he says, opening the heavy metal door of interrogation room one. He can’t take her to the cells before they have more evidence (and for once, he’s glad that she still has time to prepare herself for it). Karen walks in, and takes a seat at the table, and he stares from the door for one brief, mesmerising second. She is beautiful in victory or in defeat.

Gibbs takes her well-manicured hands in his own, remembering how it felt before when they were simply two people discovering new things about one another and sanding down a boat, and he locks the cold steel of handcuffs around them.

A chain loops through the centre of the table and restrains her (like his arms did earlier) and she doesn’t turn her head to watch him leave. He closes the door behind him, the small noise strangely loud in its echo, then locks it with a silver key that he pockets as he goes.

She will be there later, and he will return to her.

It’s a single elevator journey away to reach his next destination, where Abby holds dominion and is (he remembers) finishing up some other tests after her late night party the day before.

“Abby, check this DNA against the crime scene please,” he orders, marching into the investigation room and handing over the sealed bag.

“Gibbs! But how did you get this?” she asks, a grin sliding across her dark lips as she dances around the room with her whirlwind words and emotions and personality. He smiles, somewhat helplessly at her, and she’s already gone to run her tests. He wipes it away before she
can turn back to see it, purposefully numbing his mind and allowing her excitement to wash over him in waves, and it’s not long before she exclaims joyfully and lets him know that the DNA is a match.

He expects it. It sends him reeling anyway.

“Whose is it?” she asks expectantly, and he gazes steadily at her, and responds in an even tone.

“Karen Wilkerson,”

“Oh,” she gasps, eyes comically wide, and he grins tightly, reining in any errant emotions until his scornful blank slate has returned to normal.

“You should tell the others! Oh, they’ll be so annoyed!” Abby squeals, pigtails flying, and he nods once in agreement.

“Can you let them all know to come in?” he asks, unable to muster up the energy to call them all.

“Sure Gibbs!” she beams, racing away and it’s his cue to leave.

“They’ll be here in 20!” she yells at him as he goes but Gibbs doesn’t bother acknowledging her; he’s got a criminal to check up on, to ensure that Karen can’t escape.

It takes him mere moments to reach the investigation room again, and this time he enters the observation side. She sits patiently at the desk, eyes closed and calm despite the tear tracks that still line the sides of her face, and he collapses into a chair of his own and just
watches her.

They’ve known each other a week. He can’t be that sad to see her go, and he isn’t really. He’s disappointed and somewhat shocked, but Gibbs isn’t sorry for a woman who made her bed and now has to lie in it, but he is sad for all of the potentials that they cannot fulfil.

There can be no future anythings for them. He’s sorry for that; for the fiction that his brain hoped would one day come true and for a future plan that they cannot adjust enough to fit into.

Kate and DiNozzo arrive quickly, 15 minutes that he spends staring at her, and they find him with a flurry of noise and motion that invades the quiet room.

“Abby told us that you’d found the real murderer! So it was the sexy supervisor huh? Who would have known…” DiNozzo muses, eyes wandering Karen where she sits on the other side of the glass. At some point, she’d moved her eyes up to Gibbs and they had seemingly stared
at one another but she hadn’t really been looking at him. She’d only been looking at a mirror the whole time.

“Her DNA matches,” Gibbs says, his voice a little hoarse from sitting in silence for so long, and Kate sends him a sharp look when she hears it. “I’ll interrogate. Start the tape,” he adds on, forcing himself to his feet even as his head wavers slightly at the notion.

“Are you-“ Kate begins but Gibbs has left the room and doesn’t let her finish before the door swings shut, and he opens the door to the main interrogation room.

She smiles as he enters, a tiny regretful smile that causes tears to begin falling silently down her face again, and he can’t help but soften a small amount. He asks her questions about Lambert and Karen responds to every single one truthfully. She confesses to everything, and
he really hopes that she gets a little bit of a shorter sentence because of it, but they both know she’s in for a life sentence anyway.

It’s their easiest interrogation ever, and he just knows that Kate and DiNozzo are going mad with curiosity in the next room. He orders the tape to be shut off, and leans in to the centre of the table to ask one last question.

She leans in too, just like before.

“Was this real?” he whispers, not desperate but somewhere approaching it, and she looks at him affectionately, brows twisted in sorrow and lips curled up slightly in slow resignation. She shakes her head, no, that’s not something that she will answer him. She is cruel, crueller
than he ever suspected her to be, because he hates mysteries and now this one will stay with him because he can never solve it.

He leans back with a sorrowful sigh jerked out of him, and they know that nothing could have gone differently. It’s a strange sense of closure that leaves him breathless and burning as he stands up and walks away, not looking back as he opens the door and closes it tight
behind him.

“We did it boss! That was easy!” DiNozzo rushes out of the room to celebrate, Kate following a little more uncomfortably behind him (she always was better at telling emotions than Tony), and he silently passes on the key to Karen’s handcuffs so that she could be taken to the prison cells until Monday. DiNozzo blinks in surprise, but takes it and leaves him free to escape the tight bounds of a secret released.

“I’m going to check something with Abby. DiNozzo, put her in the cells. Kate, help him,” he orders with a taught voice and back and the tension that he leaves in his wake is tangible to even the emotionally illiterate. He walks away, but he knows that his agents will take care of
things and that is, in a sense, soothing.

And it’s not until he reaches a dark corridor that he allows himself to crumble. It’s too dark for anyone to see him, so he lets his body sink harmlessly to the floor under the weight of false pretences and broken potential, and it is then that the tears come (the ones he so
ruthlessly suppressed in the company of others) and flood his face with sorrow.

He trusted the wrong person. He wasn’t careful enough. He needed to concentrate more on a job and less on women.

He curls into a ball, back grounded against the hard wall and face bent down into his knees as he bites his hand to stop from sobbing like a helpless child. He won’t let anybody see him with all his walls down like this, and so he trembles alone for endless minutes with the
memory of how her lips tasted covered in cigarette smoke and then how she had felt pressed besides him as she helped him sand the boat and how she had held her head up even in defeat and-

“I rather thought I might find you here, Jethro,” a familiar voice echoes down the dark corridor and he freezes, limbs locking up and allowing the gentle voice to move closer.

“Yes, I believe this is a favourite haunt of yours, as one might say. I was a little concerned when Kate and Tony told me you had gone to see Abby, and she was convinced that you hadn’t, but then I thought to myself, ‘where does he always go when he wants to avoid people?’
and as you see, here I am,”

“Ducky,” he croaks and smiles tiredly.

“It wasn’t here, in case you were about to ask. It was your basement, but it seems a little far to go from there so I thought that here might be a good second choice,” Ducky continues in his normal, rambling manner even as he got closer to Gibbs and almost falling over him in
the dark.

“Ow!” he exclaims, causing Ducky to laugh as he slowly attempts to bend his knees in order to sit down next to him.

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry. Now give me a minute, these bones don’t work like they used to, you know,”

It takes Ducky the full minute to manoeuvre himself into place, but then they sit in silence for a few more and Gibbs finds that his mind is slowly beginning to clear.

“It wasn’t your fault, you know,” Ducky breaks first, and Gibbs sighs as he smiles a little.

“I know, Ducky, I know,”

“At least you got the right suspect in the end. It’s not like you to be upset over a small issue like this,” Ducky continues, with his head in the wrong place and his heart in the right one and Gibbs can’t help but laugh (a little brokenly) as he corrects him.

“No, Duck, the issue wasn’t that. Isn’t that,” he sighs, and Ducky pounces.

“Whatever do you mean Jethro? Surely it’s something to do with it, you seemed upset to Kate after all…” he asks in confusion, and Gibbs closes his eyes at the realisation that Kate had realised that something was pretty wrong after all.

“How do you think I got the DNA on the cigarette so fast?” Gibbs whispers, and that’s all the information that Ducky has ever needed to work out a puzzle.

“Oh Jethro. I’m so sorry,” Ducky apologises, and nudges him slightly. “Not the best ending to a date, although I do- sorry,” he rambles but remembers the situation and cuts himself off. Gibbs doesn’t ever really pretend to have minded the stories, but the consideration is nice
none the less.

“No, it wasn’t. But what was I expecting after all?” he shrugs in an attempt to pull off nonchalant and pretty much fails, judging by the silence that his friend doesn’t fill.

“It really wasn’t your fault. None of it was. It’s not you…it’s the job that destroys these things,” Ducky tells him, and they both know that the conversation isn’t just about Karen anymore, if it ever truly was.

“I screw up romantic relationships, me, Ducky, not my work. Me,” he chokes back, and the darkness clouds around them until it clogs up his breath and causes goose bumps to form up and down the weathered skin of his arms and forces its way into his brain by clearing out the tear ducts.

“It’s not your fault Jethro, and it never has been. I’m better than any woman anyway,” he jokes and Gibbs smiles even as the words settle into his skin and bathe his new wounds. An arm settles securely around his shoulders, and he knows that what his old friend says is at least
partially true.

“Thanks, Ducky,” he whispers.

“You’re welcome, Jethro,” Ducky responds somewhat seriously, and they still. Gibbs thinks of Karen, of his ex-wives, and allows one last tear to honour the woman who he could have loved.

The darkness returns to settle in their silence, but this time there’s no cold.