Breaking the News
Spoilers for Judgment Day
After breaking the news of the director’s demise to McGee and Abby in the bullpen and giving the distraught forensic scientist a hug, Ducky returned to the morgue to process the news, knowing that McGee would take care of Abby. He stopped on his way to the elevator, detouring towards the stairs that led to MTAC and the administrative offices. He climbed the stairs slowly, mentally preparing for the self-assigned task as he shuffled past the secure entrance to MTAC, pausing at the closed door that led to the director’s private suite of offices. Ever the gentleman, he knocked before proceeding to open it.
Cynthia, the director’s assistant, looked up from the computer monitor. The young woman’s tightly curled hair was held back from her face by a wide hair band colored in a variety of browns in geometric patterns. Her caramel-colored skin was set off by her espresso-colored suit. She smiled as she recognized the visitor.
“Dr. Mallard, what a surprise! Director Sheppard isn’t in today though I thought you were aware of that.”
The agency’s medical examiner had become a more frequent visitor to the office of late but although curious, Cynthia had never questioned either the director or the doctor as to why. Circumspect as always, she had also not given in to any temptation to spread news of the increasing visits along the water-cooler gossip chain. Cynthia was aware of exactly what her job as director’s assistant meant and required of her. Plus over the past two and a half years, Jennifer Sheppard had become more of a professional friend and not just her boss.
Jenny was warm and caring in a way that Cynthia had not experienced during her years of federal employment. As driven as she obviously was, to Cynthia, the other woman had never lost her zeal for life and concern for her fellow man. Others, she knew, would disagree with her but Cynthia saw behind the woman in the suit.
“Ah, Cynthia, indeed I am aware that Director Sheppard is not in.” Ducky walked up to stand in front of the woman’s desk. “It is you I’ve come to speak with. I was wondering if perhaps you might join me for some tea, dear girl.”
The young woman could not stop the smile that spread over her face at the doctor’s words. Ducky was always so polite to both her and Jenny, his old world manners coming to the forefront with ease. As she looked over the file folders on her desk, Cynthia realized that there was something different about the elderly coroner this time. There was a certain quality to his voice that she could not place.
“”Cynthia, wait, please. Before you decide, there is some news I must share with you.”
“What is it, Dr. Mallard?” Her concern for him spurred Cynthia to rise out of her desk chair.
Looking at the younger woman, he found the same paternal feelings rising inside that he felt for several others in the agency. He hated to cause those that he cared for pain and knew that was exactly what he was about to do to the young woman in front of him.
“My dear, there’s been an accident…no, a tragedy…” Ducky paused, wondering why it was so much more difficult to tell Cynthia than it was to break the news to Timothy and Abigail.
“Doctor, you’re scaring me.” Cynthia’s voice grew quiet with dread. “Please, just say what it is that happened.”
Reaching down inside, Ducky steadied his turbulent emotions, took a deep breath and spoke softly but clearly, coming immediately to the point.
“Cynthia, Jennifer was gunned down during a shootout in California. She’s gone.”
He watched as the brown eyes filled with tears. Then Cynthia blinked and took a few deep breaths. “Oh Director,” she whispered softly.
“My dear…” Ducky reached out a hand to comfort her but wasn’t surprised when she shied back.
“I’m fine. I’m fine, Doctor.” She breathed deeply again. “But I think I’ll pass on that tea, if you don’t mind. I…I need a few minutes alone.”
“Certainly, my dear.” He turned and moved to the door, pausing before opening it. “If you need to talk…”
He moved through the doorway, not hearing her whispered reply. The office door had not clicked shut when Cynthia allowed herself to sink slowly back in to her chair. Tears blurred her vision and she looked down, staring at the large pile of correspondence she’d been ready to sign Jennifer Sheppard’s name to.
Back in the bullpen, McGee had finally managed to somewhat calm the distraught Abby, convincing her that she needed to be down in her lab in case Gibbs, Tony or Ziva called with a request. He’d been about to go up to his own desk when movement on the platform caught his attention. Looking up, he noticed Ducky walking slowly towards the elevator. Deducing that he’d come from the director’s office, McGee realized that he must have told Cynthia and wondered how badly she’d taken the news. Although they didn’t regularly run into each other, he had seen her enough since transferring to the Naval Yard to be on a first name basis with her and recently she’d come to him when she’d purchased a newer laptop for her home. He liked to think that they’d formed somewhat of a friendship.
Taking it upon himself to check on her since he knew that many of the agents barely knew her name, McGee jogged lightly up the stairs, moving to the office door. He didn’t bother to knock but instead quietly turned the knob. Peering inside, he saw Cynthia staring down at her desk, furiously blinking her eyes. McGee eased himself inside the office and moved to the side of her desk.
“Cynthia, are you ok? Um, of course, you aren’t. I’m sorry….” The words came out in a low rush. He wasn’t good at this. Abby he could easily relate to but this woman was entirely different. Still he felt the need to do something. He moved to the other side of her desk and knelt on one knee next to her.
“I’m sorry, Cynthia, I know you considered the director a friend.”
The quiet words proved to be her undoing and the dam broke as her tears slowly ran down her cheeks. Not knowing what else to do, McGee reached out and embraced her, allowing her to soak his jacket with her grief.
# # # #
Cynthia smoothed the non-existent wrinkles from her black skirt as she sat down and moved her chair closer to her desk. She’d just come from the funeral of her now-former boss, Jennifer Sheppard. While she’d actually wanted to take paid leave for the day, the new director had asked that she return to the office after the formal services since he had a few urgent agency matters to attend to. As dedicated as Cynthia was to her job, she’d agreed and had arrived back sooner than Director Vance had. She took the few minutes to think back on the seemingly odd events of the week.
To say the last several days had been nothing less than highly strange would have been an understatement. Working for Director Morrow for many years prior to Jennifer Sheppard, Cynthia understood well the need for being circumspect considering all of the highly classified information she’d had access to. However the past several days had been more secretive than normal – enough to make any junior operative’s hair stand on end.
Cynthia thought back to hearing the news of Jenny’s demise from Dr. Mallard. What she’d heard that day did not mesh with what the media had been reporting of late. She wondered why but doubted that she’d ever know the reason. In this case, the details, at least to Cynthia, were not that important. A woman she had admired was still dead and whether she’d been shot or killed in a fire didn’t really matter.
She inhaled deeply as she remembered hearing the awful words just several days ago. She’d tried so hard to remain strong while Dr. Mallard had been in her office. But afterwards all she’d wanted was to go home and cry. She hadn’t though. Instead she’d been taken to dinner by Agent McGee, who had quietly but firmly insisted that she needed to eat something before he made sure she’d gotten home for the evening.
She’d felt safe and protected with the younger agent even though she didn’t know him well. She knew he was the quieter member of Team Gibbs and one of the brightest computer experts in the agency. Her professional dealings with him had been limited to work he’d performed on the director’s computer but she’d been impressed with the way he handled himself then. He obviously was good at his job and knew what he was doing. Gibbs certainly didn’t put up with anything less than a top-notch performance from his team whenever the job demanded.
As she thought she straightened the files on her desk. She’d come in earlier than necessary – mostly to make sure that the transition from Director Sheppard to Director Vance was smooth. She knew well that the man did not tolerate screw-ups and shoddy work. Neither, really, had Jenny but Cynthia was still determined to give her best.
The buzz of her phone interrupted her thoughts. Picking up the handset, she wondered what her new boss would want.
“Yes, Sir, I’ll call Agent Gibbs right away. Do you need any files, Sir?”
As she pressed the release button and moved to dial Gibbs’ line, Cynthia pondered why the Agency’s top team was being summoned. As far as she knew it had been fairly quiet since the announcement of the fire.
She watched quietly as the team somberly entered her office. Gibbs was stoic as always but she could see how much older he appeared and wondered again what had happened the evening that Jenny’s house had burned. Ziva, Tony and McGee were equally quiet although McGee glanced her way with a raised eyebrow, silently inquiring how she was doing. She gave a small nod and smile as she called the director. The door closed behind them as they entered the inner office and she wondered at the seemingly ominous click.
Several minutes later, the door opened and the team filed out. She looked up, glancing at their faces and reading shock on McGee’s and Officer David’s, an almost resignation on Agent DiNozzo’s and Gibbs… Well, to Cynthia, the man always looked pissed but now he looked far beyond just his regular pissed. Her eyes moved back to Agent McGee’s face, trying to catch his eyes but he seemed singularly focused on the outer door and leaving the office as fast as possible. Sighing, she promised herself to try to locate him before the end of the workday.
She had just picked up a pile of letters to copy when the door to the director’s office opened. Vance held out three files.
“Cynthia, see that the pertinent information in these files gets copied and forwarded to Agent Gibbs. He needs to familiarize himself with his new team before Monday.”
She nodded her head quietly, realizing that she now knew the reason for the expressions on the four agents’ faces.
Once the workday was over, Cynthia slowly packed up her bag to leave as she planned her route, hoping to run into Agent McGee. She knew that the team normally stayed long past what was considered the normal quitting time but given the extraordinary events of the day, she thought there was a chance to run into him.
As she exited the building to head towards the parking lot, she noticed the young agent walking several yards ahead of her. Not wanting to yell out and embarrass him in front of their co-workers, she hurried to catch up to him.
“Agent McGee…” she called as she moved closer behind him.
He stopped and turned, acknowledging her with a smile that did not reach his eyes. “Hello Cynthia.”
She moved up beside him. “I wanted to talk to you…to thank you actually for taking the time a few days ago and to return the favor, if you’d like that is.”
McGee stopped and looked at her. “But that’s not necessary, Cynthia.”
“I know. I want to and it doesn’t have to be tonight. With everything going on, I know you must have a ton to do tonight. Not only for yourself but your..well, Agent DiNozzo and Officer David. Just…When you have time or need to talk…”
McGee nodded. “You’re right. There are things that need to be done tonight but sometime, yes.”
Cynthia exhaled silently. She’d been afraid that he’d refuse and it was important to her to not be seen as weak – even by those that she wasn’t romantically interested in. McGee was definitely one of the good guys. She was glad that he would still be close by.
McGee smiled what she referred to as a true little boy grin. “Thank you, Cynthia.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied to his departing back as McGee hurried towards his car.